The French Church has identified one of the previously unnamed retired archbishops investigated for sexual abuse, a revelation delayed because civil prosecutors did not inform Church officials that they had closed the case without taking any action.
After a prosecutor confirmed reporting by Famille Chrétienne, the archdioceses of Auch, Lyon and Toulouse issued a joint statement confirming that a nun had accused retired Auch Archbishop Maurice Gardès in 2020 of “moral and sexual harassment, spiritual abuse and sexual aggression”.
The complaint to the Lyon archdiocese was made a month before the archbishop’s retirement was announced by the Vatican. Lyon was also reported it to civil authorities, who sent it to colleagues in Auch.
Prosecutors in Auch looked into the case but filed it away in April 2022 because it was too old and not sufficiently substantiated.
A canonical procedure was also launched. In 2021, the Vatican quietly barred the archbishop, now retired in his home diocese of Lyon, from public ministry. He was also ordered not to return to the southwester Auch diocese, to lead a life of prayer and penitence, and to undergo psychotherapy.
Those sanctions remained private whil the bishops waited for the civil probe to end. “We were not able to announce this until now,” said the archbishops’ statement.
Last November, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort stunned the episcopal conference he heads with the admission that 11 former bishops were being probed for committing or covering up sexual abuse.
Three of the accused were not named. After a public confession by retired Strasbourg Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet and confirmation of the inquiry into Archbishop Gardès, only one prelate remains unknown to the public.
According to Famille Chrétienne, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the French nuncio, had to rush down to Auch in 2020 to tell Gardès personally to leave when he learned the retiring archbishop hoped to be named apostolic administrator pending a successor.
As a one-time vicar general of Lyon archdiocese, Gardès was tried in 2019 along with Cardinal Philippe Barbarin for non-denunciation of defrocked priest Bernard Preynat, a serial sexual predator. He was acquitted.