French prosecutors announced Saturday that Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard will not face criminal charges after he admitted to abusing a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago.
Marseille prosecutor Dominique Laurens told AFP that “the case was closed due to the statute of limitations.”
Ricard, the president of the French bishops’ conference from 2001 to 2007, publicly acknowledged Nov. 7 that he had behaved “in a reprehensible way” toward the girl when he was a pastor in the Archdiocese of Marseille in the late 1980s.
On Nov. 11, the Vatican said that Ricard would be subject to an “investigatio praevia,” or preliminary investigation, following the admission. The Vatican probe is believed to be ongoing.
According to his official Vatican biography, the cardinal is a member of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that oversees the Catholic Church’s response to clerical abuse.
But AFP reported that Ricard presented his resignation from the doctrinal dicastery when the Vatican announced the opening of its investigation in November and it was accepted.
Ricard is also listed in the official biography as a member of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, and the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. At the age of 78, he is still eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.
Marseille prosecutor Dominique Laurens announced Nov. 8 that the cardinal, who served as archbishop of Bordeaux from 2001 until his retirement in 2019, would face a preliminary investigation for “aggravated sexual assault.”
Ricard was reportedly taken into custody for questioning Feb. 2. Citing the prosecutor, AFP said that Ricard told investigators that he had “kissed” the girl, who was “in his memory aged 13 years, having embraced and caressed her over the clothes,” but “there were no sexual relations.” The cardinal reportedly recognized that his behavior was inappropriate and “asked forgiveness.”
AFP added that, according to the victim, the incidents took place in Marseilles over three years and ended when Ricard changed parish.
The French association Be Brave described the prosecutors’ decision to close the investigation as a “farce” and called for a reevaluation of the statute of limitations relating to child abuse.
“One year after the Sauvé report, nothing has changed,” it said, referring to a landmark study of abuse in the French Church. “We demand extensive judicial and parliamentary investigations into the facts of child abuse committed by representatives of the Church.”
Ricard’s declaration concerning the 14-year-old was read out last November by French bishops’ conference president Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort during the bishops’ plenary meeting at Lourdes.
Ricard said: “Today, when the Church in France has decided to listen to the victims and to act in truth, I have decided not to remain silent about my situation and to place myself at the disposal of the justice systems of both society and the Church.”
“This process is difficult. But what is most important is the suffering experienced by the victims and the recognition of victims and the recognition of the acts committed, without wanting to hide my responsibility.”
He went on: “Thirty-five years ago, when I was a pastor, I behaved in a reprehensible way with a 14-year-old girl. My behavior necessarily caused serious and lasting consequences for this person.”
“I have explained this to her and asked her forgiveness, and I renew my request for forgiveness here and to all her family. It is because of these actions that I have decided to take a time of retreat and prayer.”
“Finally, I ask forgiveness to those I have hurt and who will live this news as a true ordeal.”
Ricard’s admission followed the disclosure a month earlier that Bishop Michel Santier had been allowed to resign as Bishop of Créteil in 2021 citing health reasons when he was facing claims of spiritual abuse. The news prompted uproar in the French Church, which has been shaken by a series of clerical abuse scandals.
The bishops’ assembly at Lourdes concluded on Nov. 8 with a message to French Catholics, in which they insisted that “there is not, nor can there be, impunity for bishops.”