French clergy sexually abused more than 200,000 children since 1950, report finds

Bishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort asked for forgiveness after the “bombshell” report was handed down.Credit:AP

The commission was established by Catholic bishops in France at the end of 2018 to shed light on abuses and restore public confidence in the church at a time of dwindling congregations. It has worked independently from the church.

Sauve said the problem was still there. He added that the church had until the 2000s shown complete indifference to victims and that it only started to really change its attitude in 2015-2016.

Church urged to reform

The Catholic Church’s teaching on subjects such as sexuality, obedience and the sanctity of the priesthood helped create blind spots which allowed sexual abuse by clergy to happen, Sauve said, adding that the church needed to reform the way it approached those issues to rebuild trust with society.

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The church must take responsibility for what happened, the commission said, and ensure reports of abuse were transmitted to judicial authorities.

It must also provide victims with adequate financial compensation, “which, despite not being sufficient (to address the trauma from sexual abuse), is nonetheless indispensable as it completes the recognition process”.

The height of the abuse was 1950-1970, the commission said in its report, with an apparent resurgence in cases in the early 1990s.

Many cases are covered by the statute of limitations, but state prosecutors have been alerted of more recent cases and the commission stressed that the church should provide compensation no matter when an offence was committed.

It added a list of recommendations that included systematically checking the criminal record of any person assigned by the church to be in regular contact with children or vulnerable people, and providing priests with adequate training.

Sauve said the commission itself had identified around 2700 victims through a call for testimony, and thousands more had been found in archives.

A wide-ranging study by research and polling groups estimated there had been around 216,000 victims, and the number could rise to 330,000 when including abuse by lay members.

Sauve said the scale was unprecedented. There have been around 2900-3200 suspected paedophiles in the French church over the last 70 years, he added.

‘Disgrace’

Francois Devaux, a victim of church abuse and founder of victims’ association La Parole Liberee, told church representatives at the report’s presentation: “You are a disgrace to our humanity.

“In this hell there have been abominable mass crimes … but there has been even worse, betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children.”

Francois Devaux, a victim of abuse, accused the church of cowardice.

Francois Devaux, a victim of abuse, accused the church of cowardice.Credit:AP

He accused the Church of cowardice and thanked the commission, saying the report would prove a turning point: “You finally bring victims an institutional recognition of the responsibility of the church.”

The French findings come a year after Britain said the Catholic Church had received more than 900 complaints involving more than 3000 instances of child sex abuse in England and Wales between 1970 and 2015, and that there had been more than 100 reported allegations a year since 2016.

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In June, the Pope said the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis was a worldwide “catastrophe”. Since his election in 2013, he has taken a series of steps aimed at wiping out sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

This year, he issued the most extensive revision to Catholic Church law in four decades, insisting that bishops take action against clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults.

But critics accuse Francis of responding too slowly to the sex abuse scandals, of failing to empathise with victims and of blindly believing the word of his fellow clergy.

Reuters


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