Over the last seven decades, members of the French Catholic clergy have reportedly engaged in horrific acts against children. According to a new report greenlit by church officials, an estimated 216,000 children experienced sexual abuse at the hands of the church. The findings also concluded that the church “prioritized the protection of the institution over victims.”
The French Catholic Church reportedly employed between “2,900 and 3,200 abusers” from 1950 to 2020. These abusers worked among a group of 115,000 priests and other clerics. To make matters worse, the number of victims rises to approximately 330,000 when non-clergy abusers within Catholic schools and youth programs are included in the count.
“The Catholic Church is the place where the prevalence of sexual violence is at its highest, other than in family and friend circles,” per the report’s findings.
How The Report Came To Be
The report was in the works for about three years, before its release on Tuesday. Per CNN, an independent commission began their investigations in 2018 at the request of church officials, including French Catholic clergy groups. It was paid for by the French Catholic Bishops conference.
A 21-member interdisciplinary panel of experts compiled the report under the name Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE). The team featured diverse religious backgrounds and was led by president Jean-Marc Sauvé.
They were permitted access to archives of dioceses and religious institutions to assist the investigation. However, the commission also collected testimony from nearly 6,500 people which led to identifying 2,700 abuse victims. Archives and press stories helped to identify an additional 4,800 victims.
A Systematic Fail
Jean-Marc spoke about the findings during a Tuesday news conference. He clarified that the abuse was indeed systemic rather than “a few black sheep that strayed from the flock.”
“Faced with this scourge, for a very long time the Catholic Church’s immediate reaction was to protect itself as an institution and it has shown complete, even cruel, indifference to those having suffered abuse,” stated the report.
Jean-Marc stated that “abuse of minors within the church” makes up a staggering 4% of all sexual violence in France. While more than half of the abuses happened before 1969, Jean-Marc clarified it’s not over yet. According to the report, the number of abused children stopped declining back in the early 1990s.
“The problem isn’t behind us, it’s still here,” Jena-Marc said.
Besides the revelations, the report also issued 45 recommendations, including categorizing sexual violence as “a work of death.” It also recommends: changes to the secret of confessions, “psychological evaluation” for trainee priests, law training for priests and financial compensation and formal recognition for victims.
“This isn’t about handouts or rescuing victims,” Jean-Marc said. “It is simply about repairing the … damage that the Church has a responsibility in,” Sauvé said. “It is in fact a debt the Church owes victims.”
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