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French prosecutors drop ‘sexual assault’ probe into cardinal

#French #prosecutors #drop #sexual #assault #probe #cardinal

French prosecutors said Saturday they had closed an investigation into sexual assault charges against a cardinal as the statute of limitations had passed.

The probe was launched in November last year after Jean-Pierre Ricard, a retired bishop made a cardinal by pope Benedict XVI in 2006, admitted in public that he had “behaved in a reprehensible way” towards a young girl 35 years ago.

The 78-year-old, taken into custody on February 2, told investigators he had “kissed” the girl, who he said was about 13 years old.

He said he had also embraced her and “caressed her over her clothes”, but “there was no sexual intercourse.”

The victim has claimed the assault continued for three years.

The most serious sexual offences in France, such as rape, usually have a statute of limitations of 30 years, but the period to bring charges can be extended if the victim was a minor at the time of the offence.

“The case was closed due to the statute of limitations,” Marseille prosecutor Dominique Laurens told AFP.

Ricard’s confession came after a devastating 2021 report in France estimated that Catholic clergy had abused 216,000 children since 1950.

The Vatican announced its own preliminary investigation into Ricard last November, which is still underway.

Be Brave, an association fighting for an end to sexual violence against children, criticised the decision by the French legal system as a “masquerade” and a “sham”.

The group said in a statement that “nothing has changed” since the publication of the report into sexual abuse by the clergy.

“We demand extensive judicial and parliamentary enquiries” into acts of paedophilia committed by Church representatives, the statement added.

Senator Xavier Iacovelli, whose parliamentary group forms part of the presidential majority, wrote on Twitter that it was “no longer conceivable to have this statute of limitations which prevents the judgement of sexual predators.”

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