Vatican opens preliminary abuse investigation into French cardinal

© Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

The Vatican said on Friday it was launching a preliminary investigation into French cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, after he admitted to a "reprehensible" act on a 14-year-old.

France's Catholic church on Monday revealed that 11 former or serving French bishops have been accused of sexual violence or failing to report abuse cases -- including Ricard, who confessed to assaulting a girl decades ago.

"In order to properly examine what happened, it has been decided to open a preliminary inquiry," spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists in the Vatican's first public reaction to the scandal.

The Vatican has still to appoint a lead investigator. It was looking for a suitable person "with the necessary autonomy, impartiality and experience", Bruni said.

French prosecutors said on Tuesday that they had launched an inquiry into Ricard, a long-standing bishop of Bordeaux who was made a cardinal by pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

"Thirty-five years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way towards a girl of 14," Ricard wrote in a message to the Bishops' Conference of France.

"There is no doubt that my behaviour caused serious and long-lasting consequences for that person," the cardinal said, adding that he had since asked the woman for forgiveness.

Pope Francis said on Sunday that the Catholic church was working "as best we can" to fight clerical child abuse but admitted there were shortfalls.


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