An independent report on sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church estimates 330,000 children have been abused since the 1950s. Most of the victims were pre-adolescent boys of all social backgrounds, and more than a third of the assaults were committed by laypeople.
The report did not attempt to quantify the number of adults abused, but said some of those sexually assaulted were nuns or seminarians.
In the report released Oct. 5, the 21-member Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church described itself as “witnesses of witnesses.”
“The picture thus drawn reveals that the phenomenon of sexual violence in the Catholic Church from 1950 to the present day is massive; that is has decreased over time but is still present; that it is based on numerous clearly identified traits of a systemic nature. The trauma suffered by the victims is compounded by the perpetrator’s standing,” said an English summary of the 2,500-page report.
“In all the testimonials … the first cry is for justice,” it said. “In other words, before proclaiming ‘it must never happen again,’ the ‘it’ has to be recognized, acknowledged, and described, those responsible for ‘it’ need to be designated and, in as far as is possible, reparation for ‘its’ consequences need to be found. It is not enough for the Church to claim awareness, albeit too late in the day. Or to claim that the past is the past and that for today’s and tomorrow’s children and vulnerable persons the same mistakes will not be repeated.”
“We have discovered this truth with all of you,” Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris said in an Oct. 5 statement posted on the website of the Archdiocese of Paris. “It is far beyond what we thought we knew, it is frightening.”
Archbishop Aupetit said that although the Church had strived for several years to respond to “this terrible tragedy seriously,” it was clear “that we still have a long way to go to welcome the suffering of the victims, to accompany them in their reconstruction, and to make our common home safer.”
“We will need all of you to enlighten us and help us in the necessary reforms,” he said.
“Please know that I share your deep sadness at these terrible revelations. I invite you to pray for the victims whose lives have been shattered. I also ask you to pray for all the priests, deacons and laity, that they may continue to work with dedication. We are all deeply saddened.”
The commission identified six categories of abuse of children: “parochial abuse,” committed by a local priest or vicar; “school abuse” by a priest, religious teacher or house master; abuse by a family member or close family friend; abuse committed with the context of “a patronage or Scouts movement”; abuse committed by “a priest acting, or claiming to act, as a psychotherapist”; and what it labeled as “prophetic abuse, committed within the context of so-called new communities, which were particularly popular in the 1970s.”
Regarding abuse of adults, “there emerges an overall sense of authority morphing into power and control becoming all-important, particularly in situations of vulnerability which are reinforced by the ecclesiastical context.”
It said canon law was “entirely inadequate with regard to fair trial standards and human rights in a matter as sensitive as the sexual abuse of children,” and it cited clericalism as a problem, as Pope Francis cited in his 2018 Letter to the People of God. It noted that since the turn of the century, the Catholic Church had made great strides, nationally and internationally, on speaking out against clergy sexual abuse.
But it said the Church must establish “a procedure for the recognition of abuse, even in time-barred cases, and provide compensation for the harm suffered. The governance of the Church must be reorganized to be more pluralist and to regulate the risks of abuse of power. Training is a key preventive tool that should be widely implemented.”
It also said that although “money could not make up for the irreparable damage incurred,” the Church must set up a system of financial reparation.
The first of the 45 recommendations directly addresses the urgent question of safeguarding and demands that any person who has committed violent or sexual offenses against children have no access to minors. It also recommends mandatory checks of criminal records of clergy and church workers with access to children and suggests that the Church sets up a hotline for people to report abuse.
The recommendations also suggest a review of the traditional discipline of priestly celibacy to allow the ordination of married men, and they demand that priests break the seal of confession and inform police of sexual offenses against children or vulnerable people that are reported to them by penitents.
One recommendation is that power should be taken away from diocesan bishops in favor of a more democratic and synodal governance of the local Church. The commission said the bishops need to closely examine the “concentration of the powers of order and of governance in the hands of the same person, which leads to an insistence on the rigorous exercise of power.”
Church’s inability to put victims first is ‘moment of shame,’ pope says
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Church’s inability to make victims of abuse their top concern is a cause for intense shame, Pope Francis said.
In the wake of a major report investigating the extent of sexual aggression and abuse against minors in the Church in France, the pope said, “I wish to express to the victims my sadness, my grief, for the traumas they have endured, and also my shame.”
This deep sense of shame, “our shame, my shame,” he said, was for “the too lengthy inability of the Church to put (victims) at the center of its concerns.”
The pope made his remarks at his general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall, in the presence of a group of bishops and a cardinal from France who had been in Rome for their “ad limina” visit. Just before the audience, the pope and four of the bishops gathered privately for a moment of silent prayer for victims.
Assuring victims of his prayers, the pope asked everyone to pray with him: “To you, Lord, the glory; to us, the shame. This is the moment of shame.”
He encouraged the country’s bishops and superiors general of religious orders “to continue to do their utmost so that similar tragedies are not repeated.”
The president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, U.S. Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, welcomed the publication of the final report.
“This history of unchecked abuse extending over the course of generations challenges our comprehension of how innocent persons could have suffered so terribly and their voices been ignored for so long,” he wrote in a statement Oct. 6.
“The Church in France has taken the necessary first steps for dealing with the scourge of sexual abuse by commissioning this report,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “We must all adhere to Pope Francis’ directive, ‘there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors or vulnerable adults.’”
On behalf of the papal commission, he wrote, “I express our profound sorrow and humbly ask forgiveness on the part of all those harmed by these crimes and reprehensible violations of human dignity.”
The report “underscores the need for us to repent and grow in our commitment to serve the people of God,” said Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.
“In his pastoral concern for the universal Church, Pope Francis “has called us all to greater accountability and transparency in addressing the sins of abuse and the mishandling of abuse claims at every level,” said Bishop Johnston.
“This report opens painful wounds for those who have suffered abuse by a priest, bishop, or someone in the Church, and to those who have experienced this, I urge you to report this to law enforcement and to Church authorities,” he said.