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Transparency essential for healing abuse victims, says leading nun

Sister Véronique Margron, president of the Conference of Men and Women Religious of France (CORREF), in Lourdes, November 19, 2021. (Photo by GAIZKA IROZ/AFP)

By Héloïse de Neuville and Christophe Henning | France

"We know that the publication of canonical measures or sanctions (against abusive clerics) — and even the facts, if there is sufficient assurance they are true — can allow new victims to dare to speak out," says Sister Véronique Margron. "I am therefore convinced that publication is necessary," she says.

The 64-year-old Dominican, who is president of the Conference of Men and Women Religious of France (CORREF), was one of the first persons to learn that Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard had committed an act of sexual abuse against an adolescent girl some 35 years ago. The retired cardinal's victim contacted Sister Véronique back in February.

In this exclusive interview with La Croix's Héloïse de Neuville and Christophe Henning, she retraces the events that led up to Ricard's confession to the French bishops last week as they gathered at the Marian shrine town of Lourdes for their conference plenary assembly.

La Croix: Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, the president of the French Bishops' Conference (CEF) says you were the one who informed him about the assault on a minor that Cardinal Ricard admitted to last Sunday. Can you give us the chronology of what happened?

Véronique Margron: In February 2022, Cardinal Ricard's victim learned in the press that Cardinal Ricard had been appointed to temporarily govern the Foyers de Charité, a community shaken in 2020 by revelations of abuse committed by its co-founder, Father Georges Finet. She was extremely angry and contacted me, explaining that he could not decently assume this office, since he had assaulted her when she was 13 years old...

I immediately informed the president of the CEF. And he immediately contacted the victim first, then Cardinal Ricard, who renounced his mission with the Foyers de Charité. All this took only ten days.

Some people wonder why neither you nor Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort reported the facts to the justice system as soon as you learned of them...

We did not do so because it was not the victim's request. She truly thanked us that things had gone so quickly for the Foyers de Charité. So we left it at that. Then, when she contacted me again about filing a complaint, she told me that she had asked herself this question many years ago and that — according to her analysis — the facts were beyond the statute of limitations. In later conversations, I suggested that we — the Church — could file a report.

It is indeed essential that we find the right way to do this. The people who have been victimized have been objectified and made passive by the abusers. It is not for us to do the same by ignoring the victim's word and their consent for our own actions. It is essential that the victim remains an active participant, even if he or she does not file a complaint..

It was therefore after her agreement that Eric de Moulins-Beaufort went to report to the public prosecutor. It turned out that this report had already been made on October 24 by Bishop Jean-Philippe Nault, bishop of Nice.

[Note: Nault was informed by a letter from the victim's parents when he was bishop of Digne, the diocese where Cardinal Ricard was living in retirement.]

Before confiding in you, had the victim already spoken of these facts to other religious or clerics?

Yes, this woman had written to the pope twice: the first time about five years ago, then, having received no reply, a second time last May-June via the apostolic nuncio. The nuncio acknowledged receipt of her letter in October. Fortunately, she had also spoken to her relatives and friends, some of whom are priests.

French Catholics feel they have been kept in the dark about serious acts committed by high-level officials. What is your opinion on the publication of canonical sanctions or the revelation of the facts?

This is a difficult question. We know that the publication of canonical measures or sanctions — even of the facts, if there is sufficient assurance they are true — can allow new victims to dare to speak out. I am therefore convinced that publication is necessary. But how? It must be done within the framework of respect for the law, for the victims and for the accused. There is the circle for the victims and one for those who are institutionally concerned: the religious of the same institute, the priests and laity in charge of a diocese.

It seems clear to me that this is why the publication of measures must be rapidly accomplished. But afterwards? Should the sanctions and their reasons be published on the website of the diocese? Of the religious congregation? Elsewhere? Should statements be issued? All these questions must be decided once again in accordance with our common law and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Finally, we must not do this as amateurs. We have to work continuously with magistrates, psychiatrists, etc. All of this is there, once again, only to serve as support for possible victims and the search for the truth. The truth that already does a bit of justice.


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