Church and French state at odds over confessions of sexual abuse

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The French government summoned the head of the conference of French Catholic bishops after he said secrets shared in the confessional were above the law

PARIS – The French government has summoned the head of the French bishops’ conference after saying secrets shared in the confessional are above the law, as the country is reeling from further revelations of high-profile sexual abuse scale on children within the Catholic Church.

The comments came in response to recommendations from a study released Tuesday that estimated that some 330,000 children have been sexually abused for more than 70 years by priests or other figures linked to the church.

The report describes the “systemic” cover-up of abuses committed by the Catholic Church and urges the Church to respect the rule of law in France. The church should send clear instructions to clergy receiving confession that they are legally obligated to report any case of sexual violence against a child or vulnerable person to legal authorities, the report said in its recommendations.

France is a traditionally Roman Catholic country, but adheres to a strict form of secularism in public life based on a 1905 law separating Church and State.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal insisted on Thursday that “nothing is stronger than the laws of the republic”.

The bishop has been called for a meeting next week with Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin, Attal said.

According to Catholic doctrine, the confessional seal is inviolable and the Catholic Church has refused similar requests to force priests to report sexual crimes of which they are aware in confession to the police.


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