France's Catholic Church has revealed that 11 former or serving bishops have been accused of sexual violence or failing to report cases of abuse. Among them, a cardinal who confessed to assaulting a girl in the 1980s and who now faces an inquiry by prosecutors in Marseille.
Jean-Pierre Ricard, a retired bishop who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016, was named among 11 senior clergymen who face sexual abuse allegations in an announcement by the French Catholic church on Monday.
The president of the Bishops' Conference of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, told reporters that some of high-ranking church officials faced criminal prosecution, or a church tribunal, or both.
In a message read out at a meeting of bishops in Lourdes, Ricard admitted that "35 years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way towards a girl of 14. There is no doubt that my behaviour caused serious and long-lasting consequences for that person."
The most serious sexual offences in France such as rape usually have a statute of limitations of 30 years, but the period to bring charges can be extended if the victim was a minor at the time of the offence.
The maximum period for charges for sexual abuse of a minor is usually 20 years from the date at which the victim turns 18.
"A preliminary enquiry has been started to verify the facts of this revelation," prosecutor Dominique Laurens told AFP in Marseille where Ricard said the abuse took place.
The public confession by 78-year-old Ricard was received "like a shock" by the bishops, de Moulins-Beaufort said.
He is expected to tender his resignation to the pope.
"So many things are hidden. How many more will emerge?" he asked.
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