Around 333,000 children have been abused within the Catholic Church in France, report says: NPR
Thomas Coex / AP
PARIS – An estimated 330,000 children have been sexually abused within the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years, according to a report released Tuesday, which represents the country’s first major assessment of the global phenomenon.
The figure includes abuses by some 3,000 priests and others involved in the church – wrongdoing that Catholic authorities have covered up for decades in a “systemic” manner, according to the chairman of the commission that released the report, Jean-Marc SauvÃ©.
The president of the bishops’ conference of France asked forgiveness from the victims, about 80% of whom were boys, according to the report. The bishops are meeting on Tuesday to discuss next steps.
The independent commission urged the church to take strong action, denouncing the “faults” and the “silence”. He also called on the Catholic Church to help compensate victims, especially in cases too old to be prosecuted in court.
âThe consequences are very serious,â said SauvÃ©. “About 60% of men and women who have been sexually abused experience major problems in their emotional or sexual life.”
“We consider that the church owes a debt to the victims,” ââhe added.
The 2,500-page document was released as the Catholic Church in France, as in other countries, seeks to face shameful secrets that have long been withheld.
Victims hailed the report as long overdue.
FranÃ§ois Devaux, leader of the La Parole LibÃ©rÃ©e victims’ group, said it was “a turning point in our history”.
He denounced the cover-ups that allowed âmass crimes for decadesâ.
“But even worse, there was a betrayal: betrayal of trust, betrayal of morals, betrayal of children, betrayal of innocence,” he said, calling on the church to seek redress.
Olivier Savignac, the head of the association of victims Parler et Revivre (Speak Out and Live Again), contributed to the investigation. He told The Associated Press that the high ratio of victims per attacker was particularly “terrifying for French society, for the Catholic Church”.
Savignac attacked the church for treating such cases as individual anomalies rather than collective horror. He described being abused at the age of 13 by the director of a Catholic holiday camp in southern France who was accused of assaulting several other boys.
âI saw this priest as a good person, a caring person who wouldn’t hurt me,â said Savignac. “But it was when I found myself on that half-naked bed and he was touching me that I realized something was wrong … And we keep that, it’s like a growing cyst . It’s like gangrene inside the body of the victim and the victim psyche. “
The priest was finally found guilty of child sexual abuse and sentenced in 2018 to two years in prison, including one year suspended.
The commission worked for two and a half years, listening to victims and witnesses and studying church, court, police and current affairs records from the 1950s. A hotline launched at the start of the review has received 6,500 calls from alleged victims or people who said they knew a victim.
SauvÃ© denounced the attitude of the Church until the beginning of the 2000s as “a deep and cruel indifference towards the victims”.
The report states that about 3,000 child molesters – two-thirds of whom are priests – worked in the church during the seven-decade period. That figure is probably underestimated, SauvÃ© said. The casualty tally includes around 216,000 people abused by priests and other clerics, he said.
The estimates are based on research conducted by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research on child sexual abuse in the French population.
âSometimes church officials would not come forward (sexual abuse) and even put children at risk by putting them in contact with predators,â SauvÃ© said. “We consider … that the church owes a debt to the victims.”
The president of the French Bishops’ Conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said the bishops “are appalled” by the report’s findings.
“I wish that day to ask forgiveness, forgiveness from each of you,” he told the victims.
SauvÃ© said 22 suspected prosecutable crimes have been referred to prosecutors. More than 40 cases too old to prosecute but involving suspected perpetrators still alive have been passed on to church officials.
The commission made 45 recommendations on how to prevent abuse. These included training priests and other clerics, revising canon law – the legal code the Vatican uses to govern the church – and promoting policies to recognize and compensate victims.
The report comes after a scandal surrounding the now defrocked priest Bernard Preynat rocked the French Catholic Church. Last year, Preynat was convicted of child sexual abuse and sentenced to five years in prison. He admitted to abusing over 75 boys for decades.
The Preynat affair led to the resignation last year of the former archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, accused of not having reported the abuses to the civil authorities when he became aware of it in the 2010s. France’s high court ruled earlier this year that Barbarin had not covered up the case.
French archbishops, in a message to parishioners read at Sunday mass across the country, said the release of the report is “a test of truth and a difficult and serious time.”
Pope Francis published in May 2019 a new revolutionary law of the church demand that all Catholic priests and nuns around the world report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.
In June, Francis quickly rejected an offer from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of Germany’s most prominent clergymen and close advisor to the Pope, to resign from his post as Archbishop of Munich and Freising due to mismanagement. cases of abuse by the church. But he said a reform process was needed and that every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the crisis.