A commission investigating historic wrongdoing alleges thousands of Catholic priests involved in ‘systemic’ abuse.
About 216,000 children are estimated to have been sexually abused by thousands of French Catholic priests, deacons and other clergy since 1950, an independent inquiry has found, alleging the phenomenon was covered up by a “veil of silence”.
The details made public on Tuesday are the latest to rock the Roman Catholic Church after a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.
The 2,500-page document prepared by an independent commission was published on Tuesday, and documents decades of abuse and cover-ups.
The commission highlighted a “cruel indifference” on the part of the French Catholic Church for victims of the “systemic” abuse.
Speaking at the release of the report, the commission president Jean-Marc Sauvé said the church showed “a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims” of abuse, up until the early 2000s, when the victims were “not believed, not heard”.
The report states an estimated 330,000 children were victims of sex abuse when non-religious people involved in the church were taken into account.
80 percent of the victims were boys.
Sauvé said said about 80 percent are male victims.
The Church not only failed to take necessary preventive measures, he said, but also turned a blind eye to abuse and sometimes knowingly put children in touch with predators.
“The consequences are very serious,” Sauvé said. “About 60 percent of men and women who were sexually abused encounter major problems in their sentimental or sexual life.”
Victims voiced their disgust over the findings.
“You are a disgrace to our humanity,” Francois Devaux, who set up victims’ association La Parole Liberee, meaning The Liberated Word, told church representatives at the presentation. “In this hell, there have been abominable mass crimes … but there has been even worse, betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children.”
“In this hell there have been abominable mass crimes … but there has been even worse, betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children,” Devaux said, also accusing the Church of cowardice.
The 2,500-page document prepared by the independent commission comes as the Catholic Church in France, like in other countries, faces up to shameful secrets that were long covered up.
Speaking after Sauve at the presentation, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, the archbishop of Reims and head of the Conference of Bishops of France, asked for forgiveness. He called the report a “bombshell” and promised action.
The commission was established by Catholic bishops in France at the end of 2018 to shed light on abuse and restore public confidence in the Church at a time of dwindling congregations.
It worked independently from the Church during its two-and-a-half-year lifetime, listening to victims and witnesses and studying church, court, police and press archives starting from the 1950s.
Sauve said the commission itself had identified approximately 2,700 victims through a call for testimony, and thousands more had been found in archives.
Pope Francis expresses ‘immense sorrow’
Pope Francis thanked victims for coming forward.
“First of all his thoughts go to the victims, with great sorrow, for their wounds,” a Vatican statement said. “(His thoughts go to) the Church of France, so that, in the awareness of this terrible reality … it may embark on a path of redemption.”
The Pope felt “immense sorrow” for the victims, according to Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni.
Speaking to reporters after the report’s publication, Bruni said Francis’s thoughts were with the victims, and with the Church of France, “so that, having become aware of this appalling reality…it can undertake the path of redemption.”
“With his prayers, the Pope entrusts to the lord the people of God in France, especially the victims, so that He may grant them comfort and consolation and so that, with justice, the miracle of healing may be accomplished,” the spokesman concluded.
The president of the Conference of Bishops of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said the bishops “are appalled” at the conclusions of the report.
“I wish on that day to ask for pardon, pardon to each of you,” he told the victims.
In May 2019 Pope Francis issued a new church law 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 swiftly rejected an offer from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of Germany’s most prominent clerics and a close papal adviser, to resign as archbishop of Munich and Freising over the church’s mishandling of abuse cases. But he said a process of reform was necessary and every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the crisis.
Last year in the UK it was found sexual abuse of children was swept under the carpet.
Sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church was “swept under the carpet”, a scathing report has found.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) condemned the “repeated failures” of the institution to support victims and their families and said a failure to act when complaints were raised had “consigned other children to the same fate”.
The report, which looks at the response by Church officials in England and Wales between 1970 and 2015, blames “weaknesses in leadership” as a significant factor in the failure to address the issue, which has loomed over the institution for decades.
“The responses of Church leaders over time were marked by delay in implementing change as well as reluctance to acknowledge responsibility,” it added.
It highlights the “immovable attitude to allegations of child sexual abuse” by Catholic leaders in the UK, who were more concerned about the reputation of the Church than repairing the damage inflicted on victims.
In the almost 50 years covered by the report, it discovered the Church received 900 complaints involving 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse against hundreds of officials including priests, monks and volunteers.