[Editor’s note: What follows are unofficial English translations of the official responses to the admission of past sexual abuse of a minor by the former Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard by Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, the president of French bishops’ conference, and the French bishops. Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort also provides an update and some reflections on the situation of Bishop Michel Santier, who was recently revealed to have stepped down due to abuse allegations in 2019 and not poor health as was originally claimed. The bishops of Francis have been gathered in Lourdes their annual General Assembly. These translations were made with DeepL Translate, with additional edits for clarity. They are for information purposes, and may contain inaccuracies (if you would like to provide corrections, please contact me on Twitter at @mfjlewis or by clicking the “contact us” tab above). If an official translation becomes available, we will direct readers there. –ML]
Statement by Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort
[Press conference yesterday (Vatican News report).
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for agreeing to join us today for this previously unscheduled press conference, without waiting for the final speech of our Plenary Assembly and the press conference that will follow it.
Before sharing with you the news that motivates this disruption of our schedule, I would like to share with you the progress of our work concerning what some call the “Michel Santier affair.”
At the opening of this Assembly, I emphasized how much we were meeting with mixed feelings and how much anger and weariness we were feeling among the victims of violence and abuse in the Church, especially among those who had decided last year to trust us and also among the Catholic faithful, especially the most committed, who had expressed before our Assembly and continued to express during it their doubts, their discouragement, and their difficulty in assuming the disastrous image of the Church given by the treatment of the facts reproached by Bishop Santier.
Part of our work therefore consisted in making clear among ourselves what had happened. A precise chronology of the different actions taken since a victim went to see his bishop, the then-archbishop of Paris, Archbishop Aupetit, was established. It helped to identify what had been done, what had not been done, what had not been done sufficiently, and the dysfunctions to be noted. We worked among ourselves, behind closed doors, which allowed us to go as far as possible in our exchanges, but also with experts: a lawyer, a canonist and the French official of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith. I thank them again for their availability and their valuable contributions.
Allow me to emphasize four points:
The victims who spoke – first one, and then a second brought by the first – were listened to, taken seriously, and believed. Despite the general esteem in which Archbishop Santier was held, Archbishop Aupetit was able to initiate the appropriate canonical process based on what the victims told him. This led Archbishop Santier to present his resignation, giving the Pope the reasons for this request, and this resignation was accepted without delay. Archbishop Santier was then subjected to measures of restriction of ministry that would keep him away from any possibility of committing such acts again;
Bishop Santier’s resignation was scheduled to take effect on June 30, 2020. Such an act is normally announced by the Holy See, but he did so himself, on June 6, citing a health reason. The latter was all the more credible since he had spent several weeks confined in a hospital due to a health crisis, in very serious condition. His mention of “other reasons” went unnoticed;
Apart from the Archbishop of Paris and the Apostolic Nuncio, the bishops knew nothing about what Michel Santier had done. Canon law does not provide for the President of the Bishops’ Conference to participate in these procedures. It so happens that I was made aware of it, but it was, in a way, according to the good will of each one. When Bishop Blanchet learned in December 2020 that the Pope had appointed him Bishop of Créteil, he knew nothing about Bishop Santier’s exact situation. He learned of it later, during interviews prior to his taking office. He therefore had to carry alone what he had learned and to make sure that the farewells and tributes that the people of the diocese of Créteil wanted to pay to the man who had been their bishop for 13 years were limited. I witnessed his efforts and the delicacy and strength that Bishop Blanchet showed in order to restrict Bishop Santier’s presence as much as possible without appearing to the people of his new diocese to despise or mistreat him;
When Bishop Santier, on the arrival of Bishop Blanchet, went to live in the Manche, his home region, Bishop Le Boulc’h, Bishop of Coutances, did not know his exact situation, nor the real reasons for his resignation. He learned of it later, because one of the two victims was worried that they would hear about the assignments that might be entrusted to him. Bishop Le Boulc’h, in turn, received this person, took her seriously and imposed other conditions in the life and ministry on Bishop Santier. The nuns to whom he was sent to live with were warned and welcomed Bishop Santier with full knowledge of the facts, as a service to be rendered to a man who had been guilty of serious acts but who remained a human being and had to live somewhere.
That being said, serious shortcomings and dysfunctions at all levels become clear upon reviewing this story. This observation allows us today to implement clear and precise measures to avoid such a situation from happening again:
Bishop Santier was believed when he acknoledged the facts reported by the two victims. It may seem obvious, in retrospect, that the guilty person should not be relied upon to establish the truth of his actions. This naïveté makes it clear that bishops, like priests, are not suited to deal with crimes and offenses. We are neither magistrates nor police officers, nor do we have to become so. We must be aware of this incompetence and resolutely seek the help of competent third parties;
The public prosecutor’s office was not informed, probably because the acts had been committed against people who were of legal age – young adults but adults – and they did not want to have to be questioned further at that time, because time had passed and they had built lives for themselves;
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in May 2020, asked the Archbishop of Paris, Archbishop Aupetit, to open a canonical “preliminary investigation.” This has not been done. The text in the Code of Canon Law about a preliminary investigation is unclear: it is done to establish the likelihood of the facts. In this case, this likelihood was established since the respondent had admitted to them. Moreover, his resignation had already been accepted. In such a situation, when and how should a real investigation be carried out, to determine all the crimes that the respondent may have committed, and to judge him accordingly?
I have already emphasized the lack of adequate information of Bishop Blanchet and Bishop Le Boulc’h. The issue here is understanding who should have done so and at what point in the process it should have been done;
When the disciplinary measures imposed on Bishop Santier were decided and communicated, they seemed moderate and complicated to implement to those who were responsible for their application: the Apostolic Nuncio, the bishop of Coutances, the archbishop of Rouen, and the bishop of Créteil. But the determination of these sanctions was not up to them, nor was their publication. As in French law, for example, the publication of sanctions is an additional penalty. The reaction of the faithful to this case makes it clear that for a bishop — being a public figure and claiming to be one — sanctions concerning him should always be published, unless a proportionate reason leads to another decision. The same idea can be applied to priests.
As for the relative moderation of the sanctions, it is due, according to what we understand, among other reasons, from the fact that his crimes were very and undoubtedly prescribed in canon law. Canon law knows prescription, as does our French law and that of all the nations that consider themselves to be States of law. Prescription prevents the judge from knowing past facts. It marks the will of the law not only to punish a criminal act and to repair as much as possible what the victims have suffered, but also to make possible the rehabilitation of the guilty party, his reintegration into society. However, on rereading, it appears that the procedure always provides for a “votum,” a recommendation of the one who conducts the canonical investigation, whether it be the Archbishop or the Nuncio or another person. We need to work on expressing more reasoned and explicit “votum,” taking into account two characteristics of the state of the People of God in France: on the one hand, it is difficult for the People of God to understand that a priest who has abused a person during a sacrament can continue to celebrate Mass, even in private; on the other hand, the People of God have the necessary maturity to bear learning of the faults committed by one of their pastors. We said it a lot last year and we believe it: “The truth will set you free”;
As President of the Bishops’ Conference, having been made aware of Bishop Santier’s situation, even though his situation does not fall within my authority and powers, I readily acknowledge the following shortcomings: I could and should have, when Bishop Aupetit informed me of the facts he had learned, insisted more on a thorough investigation; then I could and should have been more concerned to see Bishop Santier kept in place, even though his resignation had been accepted. But I repeat: the Bishops’ Conference is not a stakeholder in the process, I was only informed of some of the decisions taken, not consulted for my opinion. In November 2021, during the assembly, I informed the bishops that disciplinary measures had been taken against Bishop Santier, but without giving any indication of the acts he had committed. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had asked me to inform the bishops if I considered it useful, as much as possible orally. I deemed it necessary to do so, after an exchange with the Nuncio, in order to help Bishop Santier follow the rules imposed on him and so that bishops would avoid inviting him to preach retreats or preside over pilgrimages. Certainly, a better awareness of everyone’s responsibilities is needed, as well as better coordination between all the parties involved, whether by law or in fact.
So you see that there is work ahead of us to improve the procedures and make them more effective and understandable to all. I do not think it is fair to accuse us of having wanted to hide the Santier affair, at least not in the sense that Bishop Santier would have escaped any sanction or would have remained a risk for anyone. Unfortunately, it is now clear that he may have had other victims in the past besides the two known up to now, and perhaps committed acts of a different nature. Since a report has been made by the local archbishop, we hope that the judicial investigation will make it possible to find out, and, failing that, or in addition, the canonical investigation. But two questions remain:
What concrete means do we have to conduct an investigation? How can we encourage the victimized people to speak out, create the climate that makes it possible for them to do so if they so wish? In the spring of 2019, when two people who are victims talk, the listening cells exist, the existence of ICASE is known to the general public, it may seem that a person who would have something serious to say can do so and that he or she can even know that he or she would be received and listened to. However, this has not been enough, history proves, but only the vast media echo given to the silence, once it is broken.
At the same time that we were clarifying, as far as possible, the Santier affair, the Presidency and the Permanent Council worked on the other cases of bishops implicated before the justice of our country or before canonical justice. I can tell you today what we know, what I know, within the limits of what is available to me. But first I must tell you what we received yesterday, unexpectedly. The process that will now be shared with you at the request of the person who is doing it is unprecedented. It is Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard.
[Reading Ricard’s communiqué]:
“Today, when the Church in France has wished to listen to the victims and to act in truth, I have decided to no longer keep silent about my situation and to place myself at the disposal of justice both on the level of society and that of the Church. This step is difficult.
But what is most important is the suffering experienced by the victims and the recognition of the acts committed, without wanting to hide my responsibility. Thirty-five years ago, when I was a parish priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way with a 14-year-old girl. My behavior necessarily caused serious and lasting consequences for this person. I explained this to her and asked for her forgiveness, and I renew my request for forgiveness here, as well as to her entire family.
It is because of these actions that I have decided to take a time of withdrawal and prayer. Finally, I ask forgiveness of those whom I have hurt and who will live this news as a real trial.
[End of communiqué]
This confession by Cardinal Ricard was received yesterday by us bishops as a shock. You can imagine the esteem in which he is held by those of us who twice elected him as our president and who witnessed his episcopate in Grenoble, Montpellier, and Bordeaux. We can imagine the astonishment of the dioceses and of all the Catholics of France. I must point out that the fact of which he speaks, even if it was a long time ago, was the object of a report to the public prosecutor, since the young girl was a minor at the time of the facts, and of a report to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.
I would like to add, therefore, that today there are eight cases of bishops who have been brought before the justice system of our country or before the canonical justice system and who are known to you, to whom we can now add Bishop Santier and Bishop Ricard. Two others, who are no longer in office, are being investigated today by the justice system of our country after reports made by a bishop and a canonical procedure; a third is the subject of a report to the Public Prosecutor to which no response has been given to date and has received measures from the Holy See to restrict his ministry. On the occasion of this Assembly, the Presidency and the Permanent Council have been able to verify with the officials concerned the status of the procedures and the concrete situation of each of these bishops. It is not for me to say more.
Allow me to stress the great diversity of the situations, of the acts committed or charged. We have seen that canonical justice can act rigorously and systematically, sometimes beyond that of our country, notably for acts that are prescribed or not sanctioned in French law. In spite of its limits, this canonical justice takes into account the requirement of uprightness and coherence expected of a priest and the trust that many are ready to place in a priest, a fortiori in a bishop, at the risk sometimes of being pushed into things they did not want, which is what the victims of Bishop Santier experienced.
I do not know much more about Cardinal Ricard than what he has chosen to say and to make public. Our Assembly is not finished. We still have work to do, based on the precise analysis of cases that we have been able to address. As you know, this morning we met with the leaders and one other member of each of the working groups that we decided to establish at the November 2021 Assembly. The progress report made today, November 7, 2022, already indicates the changes or transformations that we will have to initiate and implement as a Church in order to be more like the Church of Christ Jesus in the midst of this world. If the Church is made up of sinners, it must take care that these sinners do not use their ecclesial status to do harm and to reach out in particular to fragile or vulnerable people or those made vulnerable. It must accompany possible offenders with mercy, but it must also and above all begin by protecting the young and the not-so-young and supporting those who have been victims in its midst.
I would like to thank you for your attention and for your work. In this painful time in which we live, it helps the truth to come out. I assure you of the determination of the bishops: we want to continue the work of transformation begun last year and encouraged by the synodal process, so that the Church may respond to its mission.
“Shaken and resolute”
Message of the Bishops of France of November 8, 2022
Original source: eglise.catholique.fr/conference-des-eveques-de-france/cef/assemblees-plenieres/assemblee-pleniere-de-novembre-2022/531748-bouleverses-et-resolus-message-des-eveques-de-france-du-8-novembre-2022/
Dear brothers and sisters,
Gathered in Plenary Assembly in Lourdes, we have heard the shock, the anger, the sadness, the discouragement caused by what we have learned about Bishop Michel Santier, the former Bishop of Luçon and later Créteil, and now about Bishop Jean-Pierre Ricard, former Archbishop of Montpellier and Bordeaux.
We are aware that these revelations have a painful impact on the victims, especially those who had trusted us. We are aware that many of the faithful, priests, deacons, and consecrated persons are shaken. We share these feelings. As members of the same ecclesial body, we too are wounded and deeply hurt.
In the case of Michel Santier, we are keenly aware of our responsibilities and we have worked during our Assembly to identify the dysfunctions and errors that led to a situation that is shocking to all.
Some may have wondered whether Church law provides a form of impunity or special treatment for bishops. They believe, and rightly so, that there is a greater responsibility of righteousness for those who exercise the episcopacy towards the legitimate demands of the faithful as well as of the Church institution. We repeat forcefully: there is not, nor can there be, impunity for bishops.
By the very nature of their apostolic office, bishops depend directly on the Holy See. The procedures that affect them are more complex and take more time. We are committed to working with the Holy See to clarify and simplify these procedures. We have decided to set up a Monitoring Council that will not allow us to face these situations alone and just among ourselves.
Some may ask: in the present circumstances, what credence can be given to the commitments made a year ago to draw the consequences of the ICASE report? We can assure you that a transformation of practices is well and truly underway, with the help of many particularly qualified lay people, including victims. Decisions are already being made and implemented. Dioceses and Church movements are becoming more involved in the protection of minors. The working groups decided upon a year ago will deliver their conclusions in March 2023. We have just completed a progress report with them during this Assembly. This in-depth work is beginning to bear fruit. We will continue to build on this momentum.
Another question was in our hearts at the beginning of the Plenary Assembly: Are there, will there be other cases like this? The human condition being what it is, no one is immune to serious and dramatic mistakes. But we can and we want to strengthen the processes in the Church that limit them as much as possible and deal with them adequately when they occur.
In this context, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard’s statement has shaken us all. His decision to reveal serious acts from his past is important. We have mentioned all the situations we are aware of. They concern bishops who are no longer in office. They have all been the object of judicial measures.
Brothers and sisters, we humbly but wholeheartedly continue the work we have undertaken to make the Church a safer home. More than ever, the victims remain at the heart of our attention. Your expectations and demands are legitimate and truly heard. We welcome them as coming from the Lord himself. We are aware that together we can contribute to a renewed fidelity to the Gospel. This is our resolute determination. This is our humble prayer.
In Lourdes, November 8, 2022
 Note that of these six bishops, one is now deceased. In total, there are ten former bishops out of office: eight currently indicted for abuse (including Bishop Santier and Cardinal Ricard) and two indicted for for failure to report (one convicted in 2018, one released in 2020).
Image: On Sunday October 20, 2019, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop Emeritus of Bordeaux, celebrated a mass of thanksgiving for his 18 years of episcopate in Gironde. Credit: © Nicolas Duffaure – Diocese of Bordeaux. License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). Source: https://flic.kr/p/2hyncJc