French report sheds new light on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church

PARIS – An independent commission investigating sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in France since the 1950s said on Tuesday the abuse was much more widespread and systemic than previously thought, detailing how the victims had been repeatedly silenced and how church authorities had failed to report or discipline abusive clergy.

The long-awaited 2,500-page commission report, meticulously compiled over the past three years by independent experts at the request of the Catholic Church of France, was the most comprehensive account to date of the extent of the sexual abuse by the clergy in the country, especially against children and vulnerable people.

Since 1950, approximately 216,000 minors have been abused by members of the clergy in France and there have been at least 2,900 to 3,200 perpetrators of sexual abuse among members of the clergy, according to a commission estimate based on an analysis demographic and archival.

Jean-Marc Sauvé, chairman of the commission, said these figures, although estimates, were “overwhelming” and reflected a “systemic” failure of the church.

“The church has neither seen nor heard, has not picked up weak signals, has not taken the necessary rigorous measures,” Sauvé said at a press conference in Paris on Tuesday. . For years, he said, the church has shown “deep, utter and even cruel indifference to the victims.”

In 2018, in the face of growing criticism of the church’s handling of sexual abuse scandals, the highest Roman Catholic authorities in France – the Episcopal Conference of France and the National Conference of Congregations – asked Mr. Sauvé, a A highly respected senior official, head a newly created commission of inquiry called the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church.

Victims of abuse by clergy, as well as subject matter experts, welcomed the report, but said it was too early to say whether the church would act on the commission’s recommendations.

The report follows similar efforts in recent years to disclose or document allegations of sexual abuse against Roman Catholic clergy in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Poland, the United States and other countries. as the church continues to fight the devastation caused by the sexual abuse scandals over the past quarter century.

“You are a shame for our humanity”, declared Tuesday François Devaux, co-founder of an association of victims, during the press conference, addressing directly the many Catholic officials in the auditorium.

Mr. Devaux founded La Parole Libérée, an association of victims of Bernard Preynat, a former priest who was accused of sexually assaulting dozens of scouts from the 1970s to the 1990s and who was convicted in a high-profile case l ‘last year.

“You have to pay for all of these crimes,” Mr. Devaux said, emphasizing every word.

Mr. Sauvé selected 21 experts, including sociologists, historians, jurists, psychologists and theologians, who searched the archives of the Church, the state and the news, held more than 250 hearings witnesses and experts and worked with demographic, polling and research institutes.

Above all, they worked closely with victims of sexual abuse. Nearly 6,500 people, victims or their relatives, gave oral or written testimony to the commission.

Many victims praised the commission for its thoroughness and hailed the report as a much-needed corrective after years of denial or downplay by the church.

“Victims feared this would calm things down,” Devaux said of the report. Instead, he said in an interview, “they didn’t skip a single question.”

“Not only did they give a quantitative and qualitative account of the extent of sexual violence, but they also tried to understand where it came from – the institutional mechanisms,” he added.

There is a growing number of sexual abuse in the church in France after a series of high-profile scandals, in particular the Preynat affair, which involved a cardinal of Lyon accused of not reporting the abuse.

The case has become a symbol of the church’s failures and its covert approach to dealing with cases of abuse, but it also signaled a shift in victims’ willingness to speak out and challenge the authorities of the church.

“Before that, things were handled with shame,” said Isabelle de Gaulmyn, editor-in-chief of La Croix, France’s leading Catholic newspaper, which wrote a book on the Preynat affair. “And they said: ‘No, we have been mistreated, we are going to hold people to account and we are going to do it openly,” “she added, referring to Mr Preynat’s accusers.

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