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French Cardinal Ricard suspended from public ministry

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Corinne SIMON/CIRIC

Jean-Pierre Ricard

I.Media - published on 10/06/23

The former archbishop of Bordeaux has been permanently suspended from almost all public ministry after the revelation of abuse of a teenage girl in the 80s.

Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, 79, Archbishop Emeritus of Bordeaux, France, has been suspended from almost all public ministry for a renewable period of five years. This comes a few months after the revelation of his “reprehensible” conduct with a teenage girl when he was a parish priest in Marseille in the 1980s.

The sentence handed down by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith dates back to the spring of 2023 but was not made public at the time.

French news outlet La Croix revealed it on September 27, and the bishop of Digne, Emmanuel Gobilliard, confirmed it for I.Media on the same day.

Following the canonical process initiated in November 2022 by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard has been suspended from all public ministry for a period of five years. However, he remains a priest and a cardinal. He may also continue to celebrate Mass in private, either alone or with another person.

Further, a provision allows him to take part in celebrations by dispensation of the bishop of the diocese in which he resides.

Effective complete withdrawal from public ministry

Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseille, had been tasked with communicating these sanctions to him and overseeing their application. Ricard, who currently lives in retirement in the Diocese of Digne in southern France, no longer exercises any ministry there.

We are applying in the territory of my diocese what has been dictated for the universal Church, i.e. withdrawal from all public ministry.

Emmanuel Gobilliard, Bishop of Digne, confirmed for I.Media the existence of these sanctions against the French cardinal. “In agreement with Cardinal Aveline and Cardinal Ricard himself, we are applying to the territory of my diocese what has been dictated for the universal Church, i.e. withdrawal from all public ministry,” he explains. 

In a letter read on November 7, 2022, by Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF), Cardinal Ricard revealed that he had “behaved reprehensibly with a 14-year-old girl” when he was parish priest of Sainte-Marguerite parish in Marseille in the 1980s. “It is because of these acts that I have decided to take a time of withdrawal and prayer,” Cardinal Ricard said at the time.

A “shock” for France’s bishops

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort said that he and the French bishops had received the news “as a shock.” One of them, evoking a “feeling of betrayal,” could not hold back his tears. Cardinal Ricard had served two terms as head of the CEF, from 2001 to 2007.

During that time he implemented the first national measures to combat pedophilia within the Church.

Created cardinal in 2006 by Benedict XVI, he took part in the 2013 conclave that led to the election of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis had accepted the cardinal’s resignation as archbishop of Bordeaux when he reached the age of 75 in 2019, which was three years before the revelations. Cardinal Ricard announced at the time that he would be retiring to the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region to make himself available to the bishop of Digne and return to parish ministry in a diocese with fewer than 30 priests. 

In 2022, some months before his admission, Rome appointed him Pontifical Delegate for the Foyers de Charité, but he resigned a month later, citing health problems. According to Sister Véronique Margron, President of the Conference of Religious of France, news of Cardinal Ricard’s appointment prompted a complaint from his victim.

Ambiguity over his position as cardinal elector

For the time being, the Holy See has not specified whether the archbishop emeritus of Bordeaux remains, by right, a cardinal elector and therefore able to participate in a possible conclave should a papal vacancy occur before his 80th birthday, on September 25, 2024.

The sentence issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith apparently makes no mention of this, as the loss of cardinal’s rights is a matter reserved to the pope himself. It’s possible that the pope has made a secret decision, communicated only to the principal interested party (i.e., the cardinal himself) without public communication for the time being, says a source.

In response to a query by I.Media, the CEF said it had received no information concerning Jean-Pierre Ricard’s cardinalate. Cardinal Ricard did not attend the consistory ceremony in Rome on September 30, during which two French bishops — Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and Bishop François Bustillo of the diocese of Ajaccio — were created cardinals.

A source close to the matter said that Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline had been advised to place Cardinal Ricard’s situation in the hands of Pope Francis.

Precedent: the case of Cardinal O’Brien

On February 25, 2013, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of Edinburgh in Scotland, who had been implicated in sexual relations with seminarians, withdrew from the conclave scheduled to take place after the resignation of Benedict XVI. In a second step, on March 20, 2015, he formally renounced his “cardinal rights and prerogatives” in agreement with Pope Francis, “at the end of a long journey of prayer,” while formally retaining the title of cardinal. He died in 2018.

The 2023 edition of the Pontifical Yearbook still lists Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard among the members of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity. However, it no longer lists him as a member of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith — called upon to rule on cases of abuse — nor as a member of the Dicastery for Divine Worship or the Discipline of the Sacraments.

On the civil front, the French judicial investigation into Cardinal Ricard for “aggravated sexual assault” was closed in February 2023 due to the statute of limitations.

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