French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard has been named by the Church as one of 11 serving or former bishops accused of sexual violence.
In a statement, the cardinal said he had abused a 14-year-old girl when he was a parish priest 35 years ago and would now withdraw from his functions.
A year ago, a panel found evidence of thousands of paedophiles operating in the French Catholic Church for decades.
All 11 accused face either prosecution or disciplinary action in the Church.
The latest revelations came during the French bishops’ conference in Lourdes in south-western France.
Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort told reporters the 11 included a former bishop of Créteil, Michel Santier, who retired last year after he was accused of committing sexual abuse two decades earlier.
He read out a letter from Cardinal Ricard, who said he had behaved in a “reprehensible manner” with a 14-year-old girl and his conduct had inevitably caused her serious and lasting consequences.
Now retired after 18 years as bishop of Bordeaux, the 78-year-old cardinal said he had asked her for forgiveness and apologised to those he had hurt.
The current bishop, Jean-Paul James, expressed his sympathy to the victim and renewed his appeal to anyone who had suffered abuse in the diocese to come forward.
The head of the conference said that apart from the cardinal and Michel Santier, six bishops had been accused by the judiciary or by the Church and that one was already deceased.
Another two former bishops were the subject of a judicial investigation while a third had been reported to prosecutors, he added.
In its report in October 2021, an independent commission set up by the Catholic Church in France found that some 216,000 children had been abused since the 1950s, largely boys aged 10-13.
The head of the panel said there was evidence of up to 3,200 abusers and evidence had been handed to prosecutors in 22 cases where criminal action could still be launched.
France is one of many countries where sexual abuse allegations have rocked the Roman Catholic Church. Last year, Pope Francis changed the Church’s laws to make sexual abuse, grooming minors for sex, possessing child pornography and covering up abuse a criminal offence under Vatican law.
In a message ahead of the autumn bishops’ conference in Lourdes, the Pope said the Church of France had again been overwhelmed by the abuses carried out by some of its pastors.
The conference was aiming to find how to improve communication and transparency in abuse cases involving the clergy.