Jean-Pierre Ricard has become the first Catholic cardinal to publicly admit to abusing a minor, according to reports. The French cardinal said Monday that he "behaved in a reprehensible way with a young girl aged 14" as a priest in the archdiocese of Marseille in the 1980s and "my behavior has inevitably caused serious and lasting consequences for this person," from whom he has asked forgiveness; he also said he is asking forgiveness from "all those I hurt," per the AP. The former archbishop of Bordeaux now serving in the diocese of Dignes-les-Bains added he would "take leave and time to pray" and put himself "at the disposal of justice," per the Wall Street Journal, which points out Ricard "sits on the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is in charge of disciplining clergy around the world for the sexual abuse of minors."
Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops' conference Ricard once led, who read Ricard's statement at a press conference, said the 78-year-old was one of 11 active or retired French bishops undergoing abuse-related investigations. Ricard's statement said he decided "not to stay silent anymore." Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks abuse cases, says Ricard is the first cardinal to admit to abusing a minor since the clerical abuse scandal erupted two decades ago, per the Journal. Former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 92, is charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy in 1974, but he has pleaded not guilty. Other accused officials have resigned without admitting wrongdoing. (A 2021 report found Catholic clergy in France abused at least 216,000 children since 1950.)