Report estimates that 330,000 children abused in the French church since the 1950s

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French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who resigned his post as Archbishop of Lyon in 2020, is pictured in a church in Mosul, Iraq, July 24, 2017. A new report on clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France, to be published on October 5, 2021, shows that there have been 3,000 pedophiles since the 1950s (Photo CNS / Jean-Matthieu Gautier, CIRIC via KNA)

An independent report on sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church estimates that 330,000 children have been abused since the 1950s. Most of the victims were pre-adolescent boys from all walks of life, and more than a third of the assaults were committed by lay people.

The report did not attempt to quantify the number of abused adults, but said some of those sexually assaulted were nuns or seminarians.

In the report released on October 5, the 21-member Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church described itself as “witness witnesses.”

“The picture thus drawn up reveals that the phenomenon of sexual violence in the Catholic Church from 1950 to the present day is massive; which has diminished over time but is still present; that it is based on many clearly identified features of a systemic nature. The trauma suffered by the victims is compounded by the position of the perpetrator, ”said an English summary of the 2,500-page report.

“In all testimonies… the first cry is for justice,” he said. “In other words, before proclaiming ‘this must never happen again’, the ‘it’ must be recognized, acknowledged and described, the persons responsible for ‘it’ must be designated and, as far as possible, reparation for “its” consequences must be found. It is not enough for the church to claim awareness, although it is too late in the day. Or to pretend that the past is the past and that for the children and vulnerable people of today and tomorrow the same mistakes will not happen again.

“The way in which the victims expressed themselves or broke their silence, as they told the commission of their experiences, shows how this process is long and strewn with pitfalls and how it is too rarely properly taken into account. account or followed by the entourage. or an institution, ”he said.

Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris declared that the French bishops and religious orders had ordered the investigation “in order to obtain the truth, because we absolutely owe it to the victims and to all the faithful”.

“We have discovered this truth with all of you,” he said in an October 5 statement posted on the Archdiocese of Paris website. “It’s way beyond what we thought we knew, it’s scary.”

Olivier Savignac, president of the survivor group “Parler et Revivre”, or “Talk and Revive”, who was sexually assaulted at the age of 13 by a priest who has since been convicted in court, poses during an interview in Paris on October 4, 2021. A new report on clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France, due out on October 5, 2021, shows that there have been 3,000 pedophiles since the 1950s. (Photo CNS / Noémie Olive, Reuters)

Bishop Aupetit declared that even though the church had strived for several years to respond to “this terrible tragedy with seriousness”, it was clear “that we still have a long way to go to welcome the suffering of the victims, to accompany them. in their reconstruction, and make our common home more secure.

“We will need all of you to enlighten us and help us with the necessary reforms,” ​​he said.

“Please know that I share your deep sadness at these terrible revelations. I invite you to pray for the victims whose lives have been shattered. I also ask you to pray for all priests, deacons and laity, so that they continue to work with dedication. We are all deeply saddened. “

The commission identified six categories of child abuse: “parish abuse” committed by a local priest or vicar; “Abuse at school” by a priest, a religious teacher or a householder; abuse by a family member or close family friend; abuse committed as part of a “sponsorship or scout movement”; abuse committed by “a priest acting or claiming to act as a psychotherapist”; and what he called “prophetic abuse, committed in the context of so-called new communities, which were particularly popular in the 1970s.”

Concerning the mistreatment of adults, “there emerges a general feeling of authority transforming into power and control becoming essential, in particular in situations of vulnerability which are reinforced by the ecclesiastical context”.

The commission declared that it had not exceeded its authority but that it believed that “its creation as an independent body… at this precise moment in the history of the institution when it is struck by the acute crisis of sexual abuse, gives her the responsibility to dig to the roots of the problem, as deeply as the church itself does.

He said canon law was “wholly inadequate with regard to fair trial standards and human rights in an issue as sensitive as child sexual abuse”, and cited clericalism as a problem, as Pope Francis quoted in his 2018 Letter to the People of God. He noted that since the turn of the century, the Catholic Church has made great strides, nationally and internationally, to denounce sexual abuse by the clergy.

But he said the church must establish “a procedure for recognizing abuse, even in prescribed cases, and providing compensation for the harm suffered.” The governance of the church must be reorganized to be more pluralistic and to regulate the risks of abuse of power. Training is a key prevention tool that must be widely implemented.

He also said that although “money cannot make up for irreparable damage suffered,” the church must put in place a system of financial redress, to be paid directly to the survivor of abuse or, if that person is deceased, to the “victim.” The committee noted that the bishops’ conference had said it would provide endowment funding for these payments, but the committee said it should not appeal to the faithful for donations. He said the majority of contributions should come from the Union of Diocesan Associations of France, with the support of the Conference of Bishops, and the Conference of Religious of France.

The first of the 45 recommendations directly addresses the urgent question of safeguarding and requires that anyone who has committed violent or sexual offenses against children not have access to minors. He also recommends mandatory criminal record checks of clergy and church employees with access to children and suggests that the church set up a hotline for people to report abuse.

The recommendations also suggest a revision of the traditional discipline of priestly celibacy to allow for the ordination of married men, and they require priests to break the seal of confession and inform the police of sexual offenses against children or vulnerable persons who call them. are reported by penitents.

One recommendation is that power should be removed from diocesan bishops in favor of more democratic and synodal governance of the local church. The commission said the bishops should take a close look at the “concentration of powers of order and governance in the hands of one person, leading to insistence on the rigorous exercise of power.”

Bishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort de Reims, president of the conference of bishops of France, welcomed the report in a joint declaration with Dominican sister Véronique Margron, president of the Conference of Religious of France. Their two organizations had commissioned the survey, and they thanked its president, Jean-Marc Sauvé, honorary vice-president of the Council of State, for his work.

They said they were “ashamed and outraged” by his findings and promised to study all of his recommendations.


Simon Caldwell in Manchester, England contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2021 Catholic News Service / United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


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