French prosecutors drop 'sexual assault' probe into cardinal
French prosecutors said Saturday they had closed an investigation launched into a cardinal who admitted sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl because the statute of limitations had expired, sparking anger among campaigners.
The probe was launched in November last year after a statement by Jean-Pierre Ricard, a retired bishop made a cardinal by pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
But Marseille prosecutor Dominique Laurens told AFP: "The case was closed due to the statute of limitations."
The most serious sexual offences in France, such as rape, usually have a statute of limitations of 30 years.
Ricard, now 78, said in a letter last year to the church hierarchy that he had "behaved in a reprehensible way" towards a young girl 35 years ago.
Taken into custody on February 2, he told investigators he had "kissed" the girl, who he said had been about 13 years old. He had also embraced her and "caressed her over her clothes", but "there was no sexual intercourse", he added.
The victim told investigators the assaults had happened over a three-year period.
Ricard's confession came after a devastating 2021 report in France estimated that Catholic clergy had abused 216,000 children since 1950.
- 'Travesty' of justice -
Be Brave, which campaigns to end sexual violence against children, denounced the decision by the French legal system as a "masquerade" and a "travesty" of justice.
"Nothing has changed" since the publication of the French report into sexual abuse by the clergy, the group said in a statement, calling for wide-ranging judicial and parliamentary inquiries into paedophile criminal activity.
They also called for an end to the statute of limitations on this kind of crime.
Senator Xavier Iacovelli, whose parliamentary group forms part of the presidential majority, wrote on Twitter that it was "no longer conceivable to have this statute of limitations which prevents the judgement of sexual predators".
The Bishops' Conference of France told AFP its thoughts were with the victim because of everything that had been brought up for her again with the investigation.
The Vatican announced its own preliminary investigation into Ricard last November and that is still ongoing.