Sex abuse revelations concerning a cardinal and another bishop in France have unveiled certain dysfunctions, especially how information is shared between bishops and the VaticanBishops and sex abuse: who knew what and when did they know it?
The revelations concerning Bishop Michel Santier and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard highlight a number of dysfunctions. (Photo by LIONEL VADAM/ L’EST REPUBLICAIN/ MAXPPP)
By Arnaud Bevilacqua | France
The case of Michel Santier
“In the course of the process, there have been shortcomings, errors and dysfunctions in the method of responding to the actions committed by Bishop Santier.” This unambiguous admission was made by Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF), during his closing address last Tuesday at the conference’s Nov. 3-8 plenary assembly in Lourdes.
In an attempt to remedy the problems, the bishops spent several days carefully going over the chronology of Michel Santier’s case and how it was handled. The former bishop of Créteil was sanctioned for “voyeurism”. It’s important to determine who knew what and when they knew it. “The process is very fragmented, with a considerable waste of energy and information each time,” admitted a frustrated Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort.
From March 2019, when the first of Santier’s alleged victim came forward to the bishop of the diocese where the abuse occurred, to December 2019, when the file was sent to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), only two people were aware – Archbishop Michel Aupetit (then archbishop of Paris and metropolitan of the province that includes Créteil) and Archbishop Luigi Ventura (the papal nuncio at the time).
“Canon law does not provide for the president of the bishops’ conference to participate in these procedures,” noted Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort. “It so happens that I was informed, but it was, in a way, according to the good will of each one,” he said, adding that “the bishops knew nothing of what Michel Santier had done.”
When he announced his resignation from Créteil in June 2020, which had been accepted by the pope three months earlier, Bishop Santier did not say any more about the real reasons for his departure. Instead, he mentioned health problems and “other difficulties”. He remained in office until January 9, 2021, the day the Vatican announced that Bishop Dominique Blanchet had been appointed his successor. The new bishop “knew nothing about the exact situation”, according to Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort. “He learned about it later, during talks prior to his taking office,” said the CEF president.
Couldn’t the bishops have talked to each other?Upon retirement, Bishop Santier left Créteil and moved back to the Diocese of Coutance in Normandy where he grew up and was ordained to the priesthood. The local ordinary, Bishop Dominique Le Boulc’h “did not know the exact situation, nor the real reasons” for Michel Santier’s resignation, either. He found out only later from one of the victims.
The Vatican placed sanctions on Bishop Santier in October 2021, but they were not made public until a year later. According to the CEF, the papal nunciature informed Santier’s two known victims, Bishops Blanchet (Créteil) and Le Boulc’h (Coutances), and Archbishops Dominique Lebrun of Rouen (the metropolitan overseeing Coustances), and Moulins-Beaufort, the CEF president.
The latter now says that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith asked him to notify his confreres if he considered it useful, “as much as possible by word of mouth”. He claims he did just that at the November 2021 plenary assembly, in order to “avoid having bishops invite (Santier) to preach retreats or preside over pilgrimages”. But neither the Vatican nor any of the French bishops made the sanctions public.
The case of Jean-Pierre Ricard
In the case of Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, information had been circulating for some time. Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort admitted that he was first told about it several months ago by the Dominican sister who heads the Conference of Men and Women Religious of France. “I learned of this through a phone call from Sister Veronique Margron while I was in Rome in February during the symposium on the priesthood,” the CEF president explained on Tuesday.
That symposium took place from February 17-19 this year, just a few days after the Vatican had appointed Cardinal Ricard to head a three-man delegation that would carry out a pontifical visitation of Foyers de Charité, a private association of the faithful. However, the parent’s of Ricard’s victim protested his appointment in a letter that same February to Bishop Jean-Philippe Nault of Digne, the diocese where the cardinal was living.”
Following this letter, Cardinal Ricard admitted to this prelate that more than 40 years ago he had ‘kissed’ the daughter of this couple, whose religious marriage he later celebrated,” said a press release from the Marseilles public prosecutor’s office. That office also explained that Bishop Nault, who has since become bishop of Nice, referred the matter to the courts this past October 24. That was ten days after the weekly magazine Famille Chrétienne broke the news about Bishop Santier’s abuse and sanctions.
We have learned that it was around this same time that Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille contacted Cardinal Ricard after receiving information about the abuse. After Ricard admitted the abuse, Cardinal Aveline reported the incident to French authorities and the Vatican. The vast majority of the French bishops never learned about Cardinal Ricard’s case until last Sunday at the plenary assembly in Lourdes when the CEF president read Ricard’s statement.
Why did it take so long for this to come out? Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort said it was because time was needed to contact the victim and convince her to give sufficiently reliable information to establish the report. The CEF president said he also contacted Cardinal Ricard last February on this point. “It is not under the pressure of the Santier case nor because there has been a report, but because he has taken an internal step,” he added.In the meantime, Cardinal Ricard went to Rome at the end of August to participate in the consistory and two days of meeting for all the Church’s cardinals. He also attended two special events that the French community the Eternal City held to honor the newly created Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline – a Mass at the French national church and a reception at the French Embassy to the Holy See.
(With additional reporting by Loup Besmond de Senneville in Rome.)