330,000 victims of sexual abuse in church, according to a French report
PARIS: A major French report indicates that there are approximately 330,000 victims of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.
The chairman of the commission that published the report, Jean-Marc Sauve, said the estimate, based on scientific research, includes abuses by priests and other clerics as well as non-religious people involved in the church.
The report states that around 3,000 child molesters – two-thirds of whom are priests – worked in the church during this period.
The commission worked for two and a half years, listening to victims and witnesses and studying the archives of churches, courts, police and the press from the 1950s.
The 2,500-page document prepared by an independent commission comes as the Catholic Church in France, as in other countries, seeks to reckon with long-hidden shameful secrets.
Olivier Savignac, head of the “Speak and Relive” victims association, which contributed to the investigation, told The Associated Press that the estimated number of victims in the report reached 330,000.
“It’s devastating, because the ratio between 330,000 and 3,000. It’s terrifying for French society, for the Catholic Church,” he declared.
The PA was unable to read the report before it was presented and could not confirm the figure.
The commission worked for two and a half years, listening to victims and witnesses and studying the archives of churches, courts, police and the press from the 1950s. A hotline launched at the start of the investigation received 6,500 calls from alleged victims or people claiming to know a victim.
Sauve said 22 alleged crimes that can still be prosecuted have been turned over 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 clergymen, revising canon law (the legal code the Vatican uses to govern the church) and promoting policies to recognize and compensate victims, Sauve said. .
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 having abused more than 75 boys for decades.
One of Preynat’s victims, François Devaux, leader of the La Parole libérée (“La Parole libérée”) victim group, told The Associated Press that “with this report, the French church is going for the first time at the root of this problem. The deviant institution must reform. ”
He said the number of casualties the report was to list was “a minimum”.
“Some victims did not dare to speak out or trust the commission,” he said, expressing concern that the church in France “still did not understand” and sought to minimize his responsibilities.
The church must not only recognize the events but also compensate the victims, Devaux said. “It is essential that the church repair the damage caused by all these crimes, and (financial) compensation is the first step.”
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.”
“We will receive and study these conclusions to adapt our actions,” the message said. “The fight against pedophilia concerns us all … Our support and prayers will continue to go to all those who have been abused in the church. “
Pope Francis issued a revolutionary new church law in May 2019 requiring all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to 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.