Vatican to investigate French cardinal who abused 14-year-old girl

French Cardinal Ricard arrives at a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican will open an investigation into French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, who earlier this week admitted to sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl decades ago.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said on Friday a preliminary investigation would start once the most suitable person with the "necessary autonomy, impartiality and experience" was found to carry it out.

He said the Vatican was taking into account that French judicial authorities had opened a file on the case.

The Vatican's investigation would not begin in earnest until French civil authorities inquiry had concluded, so that its finding could be used for information.

Earlier this week Ricard, 78, acknowledged the abuse, which he said took place 35 years ago when he was a parish priest.

Ricard, who was bishop in the southwest region of Bordeaux from 2001 to 2019 and was made a cardinal in 2006 by former Pope Benedict, asked for forgiveness and said he would withdraw from his functions and be available for civil and Church authorities.

Eleven bishops in France are being investigated for sexual abuse.

An independent investigation in France last year found that clergy had sexually abused more than 200,000 children over the previous 70 years.

After the Vatican investigation of Ricard, Pope Francis could discipline him either by sentencing him to a life of prayer and penitence in isolation or go as far as defrocking him.

Defrocking is an expulsion from the Roman Catholic priesthood.

The last cardinal to be defrocked was Theodore McCarrick of the United States in 2019 after an internal investigation found him guilty of sexual abuse of minors and adults and abuse of power.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alex Richardson and Richard Chang)