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French Church reels at scale of abuse by priests

06 October 2021


Olivier Savignac, one of the victims, at the launch of the report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, in Paris, on Tuesday

Olivier Savignac, one of the victims, at the launch of the report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, in Paris, on Tuesday

A TOTAL of 216,000 people in France have been sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests and religious over the past 70 years, an independent inquiry has concluded. Between 2900 and 3200 priests have been found to be perpetrators.

The inquiry by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), chaired by Jean-Marc Sauvé, a former vice-president of the Council of State, was commissioned in 2018 by the Bishops’ Conference of France and the Conference of Religious Men and Women of France.

The inquiry enabled contact to be established with thousands of survivors. At a press conference on Tuesday, M. Sauvé said that the figures were probably an underestimate, but that they calculated a total of 216,000 victims, with a margin of error of plus or minus 50,000. One third had been raped. Assaults by lay people, such those committed in RC schools, pushed the estimate of survivors to 330,000.

M. Sauvé said that, after close friends and family, the Roman Catholic Church was most likely to perpetrate sexual abuse. He said that five-and-a-half million people — 14.5 per cent of women, 6.4 per cent of men — had been sexually assaulted before the age of 18 in France.

Most acts of abuse were against boys (80 per cent); but M. Sauvé warned that women survivors were less likely to have come forward.

He said that 60 per cent of survivors had reported problems with social and sexual relationships as a result of the abuse.

“There was a whole bunch of negligence, of deficiency, of silence, an institutional cover-up,” M. Sauvé, said at the launch of the inquiry’s 2500-page report. In the 50 years to the early 2000s, the Church had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference” towards victims. “The Church was unable to see, to hear, or to detect the signs” of abuse.

The Archbishop of Rennes, the Most Revd Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, who chairs the Bishops’ Conference, spoke at the report’s launch on Tuesday to thank survivors for coming forward, and promised that he would “act with them” to change the culture in the Church. The Bishops are due to study the report when they meet next month, and will respond formally then.

At his weekly general audience in the Vatican on Wednesday, the Pope said: “To the victims, I wish to express my sadness and my pain for the traumas they have endured and my shame, our shame, my shame that for so long the Church has been incapable of putting this at the centre of its concerns, assuring them of my prayers. . .  I encourage the bishops and religious superiors to continue to do everything possible so that similar tragedies might not be repeated.”

Two spokesmen for victims, François Devaux and Olivier Savignac, called for significant compensation for survivors

“It’s not simply a couple of thousand euros: ‘with a little payment, we sweep it away,’” M. Savignac warned. “No. It’s about a real compensation based on the suffering of each person.”

Leader comment: Clerical abuse: French Church disgraced

Paul Vallely: Church protects itself, not the victims

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