A retired French archbishop was ordered to lead a life of prayer and penance in 2021 following allegations of sexual assault and spiritual abuse.
Archbishop Maurice Gardès, who stood down as Archbishop of Auch in southwest France in October 2020 at the age of 75, was forbidden from exercising public ministry and returning to his former archdiocese. He was also required to undergo psychotherapy.
Accusations against Gardès were first reported April 26 by the Catholic magazine Famille Chrétienne, which said that Church authorities reported the archbishop to the prosecutor in Lyon weeks before Pope Francis accepted his resignation for age reasons.
The report was confirmed by a joint statement issued April 27 by Auch’s current Archbishop Bertrand Lacombe, Toulouse Archbishop Guy de Kerimel, and Lyon Archbishop Olivier de Germay.
The statement said that in September 2020, the Archdiocese of Lyon received the testimony of a female religious who accused Gardès of “moral and sexual harassment, spiritual abuse, and sexual assault.”
The Lyon archdiocese alerted the local public prosecutor, who sent the file to the prosecutor in Auch. At the same time, a canonical process began, with precautionary measures imposed by Lyon’s archbishop on Gardès, who had retired to the city.
In April 2022, Auch’s public prosecutor ordered that the case be dismissed, partly on the grounds of “prescription” — the statute of limitations — and partly because of an “insufficiently established offense.”
The three archbishops said they had not commented publicly on the case until now as they were waiting for the prosecutor in Auch to issue a statement.
The archbishops said that following the prosecutor’s April 27 statement, they were able to disclose information about “the canonical procedure in progress.”
“Given the seriousness of the facts denounced,” they wrote, “sanctions have been taken from 2021 by the Holy See against Archbishop Gardès: Prohibition to return to the Diocese of Auch; Prohibition of all public ministry; Obligation to lead a life of prayer and penance; Obligation to submit to psychotherapy.”
They added: “We express our support to victimized persons, our availability, and our prayer. We share the pain of all those who will be legitimately shocked and affected by the news of these events.”
“We think in particular of the priests and the faithful of the Diocese of Auch. We repeat our determination to serve the truth. In each of our dioceses, listening and welcoming units are available for those who wish to speak.”
A statement from Auch’s public prosecutor was released in response to the Famille Chrétienne report. It said that the prosecutor received the report submitted by the Lyon archdiocese via the Lyon prosecutor on Dec. 1, 2020, immediately launching a criminal investigation.
“When questioned, the female religious indicated that Maurice Gardès had committed sexual assault and attempted rape against her between late 2007 and 2009 in Gers,” it said, referring to France’s Gers department, which is covered by the Auch archdiocese.
“She did not file a complaint. Investigations were conducted on her denunciations.”
The prosecutor in Auch confirmed that some claims were dismissed because of the statute of limitation and others because it was not possible to establish their “materiality.”
“Therefore, on April 15, 2022, the procedure was closed without further action on the grounds of ‘insufficiently established offense,’” the statement said.
Gardès, who was appointed to the Archdiocese of Auch in 2004, was caught up in the “Preynat affair” that shook the French Church.
He had served as a priest of the Lyon archdiocese from 1975 to 2004, a period when priest Bernard Preynat sexually abused dozens of children. Preynat was jailed for five years in 2020.
Gardès, a former vicar general of Lyon archdiocese, stood trial for allegedly failing to report abuse at the same time as Cardinal Philippe Barbarin and four other officials. Gardès was acquitted in 2019.
The allegations against Gardès are the latest in a string of scandals involving retired bishops in France.
In November 2022, former Strasbourg Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet admitted to inappropriate behavior toward a young woman in the 1980s.
In the same month, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard acknowledged he had behaved “in a reprehensible way” toward a girl when he was a pastor in the Archdiocese of Marseille in the late 1980s.
In October 2022, it emerged that former Créteil Bishop Michel Santier had been allowed to resign in 2021 citing health reasons when he was facing claims of spiritual abuse dating back to the 1990s.
French bishops’ conference president Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort said in November 2022 that a total of 11 French bishops had faced scrutiny by the secular or ecclesiastical justice systems on suspicion of committing or covering up abuse.
The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) estimated in 2021 that as many as 330,000 children were abused from 1950 to 2020 in the French Catholic Church.