A major French report has revealed Tuesday that 330,000 children suffered sex abuse in France’s Catholic Church during the past 70 years. This is France’s first major reckoning of this devastating phenomenon.
Jean-Marc Sauve was the president of the commission that produced the report. He said that the estimate is based on scientific research and includes abuses by priests, other clerics, as well as non-religious persons involved in the church. About 80% of the victims are males, he said.
Sauve stated that the consequences of sexual abuse are severe. “About 60%” of those who have been sexually abused experience major problems in their sexual or sentimental life.
A commission independent prepared the document of 2,500 pages. It comes as the Catholic Church in France seeks to confront shameful secrets that have been long hidden.
According to the report, an estimated 3,000 child abusers worked in the church between 2000 and 2005. Two-thirds of these priests were involved. Sauve stated that the total number of victims includes 216,000 victims who were abused by priests or other clerics.
Olivier Savignac of “Parler et Revivre”, the victims association, said that the high number of victims per abuser was particularly troubling for French society and the Catholic Church.
For 2 1/2 years, the commission listened to victims and witnessed, and studied church, court and police archives, starting in the 1950s. The hotline was opened at the start of the probe and received 6,500 calls from victims or others who claimed to know a victim.
Sauve decried the church’s attitude towards victims up until 2000 as “deep, cruel and indifference.” He also deplored that they were sometimes “in part responsible” for the events.
Sauve stated that 22 of the alleged crimes can still be pursued were forwarded to prosecutors. Over 40 cases that involve alleged perpetrators still alive but too old for prosecution have been forwarded by Sauve to the church officials.
The commission made 45 recommendations on how to prevent abuse. Sauve stated that the recommendations included training priests and other clergy, revising Canon Law, which governs the Vatican’s church, and encouraging policies to compensate and recognize victims.
This report is coming after the scandal surrounding Bernard Preynat, a now-defrocked priest, rocked France’s Catholic Church. Preynat was sentenced to five years imprisonment for sexually abusing minors last year. Preynat admitted to abusing more than 75 boys over the years.
Francois Devaux (one of Preynat’s victims), head of La Parole Liberee (“The Liberated Word”) said that the French church was “going to the root cause of this systemic problem for the first time with this report.” The deviant institution needs to reform itself.”
He stated that the report’s victims list is only a “minimal” number.
He said that “some victims didn’t dare speak up or trust the commission”, expressing concern that the church in France “hasn’t understood” its responsibility and seeking to minimize it.
Devaux stated that the church must not only recognize events, but also compensate victims. “It is essential that the church corrects all of these crimes. (Financial) Compensation is the first step.
The Preynat trial led to Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the former archbishop in Lyon, resigning last year. He was accused of not reporting the abuses to civil authorities after he became aware of them in 2010. France’s highest court ruled that Barbarin didn’t cover up the matter earlier this year.
In a message to parishioners, the French archbishops stated that the publication of the report was “a test and a difficult and serious moment”.
The message stated that “we will receive and examine these conclusions to adjust our actions.” “The fight against sexual abuse in the church is a concern for all… We will continue to support all those who have been victimized by pedophilia.”
Pope Francis issued a revolutionary new church law in May 2019, requiring all Catholic priests worldwide to report clergy sexual abuse to the church authorities.
Pope Francis rejected in June a proposal from Cardinal Reinhard Marx to be resigned as archbishop de Munich and Freising for his mishandling of abuse cases. He said that reform was needed and that every bishop should take responsibility for the “catastrophe.”