Pope expresses shame for Church’s failure to deal with abuse
During Wednesday’s general audience with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis prayed for victims of clerical sexual abuse in France, expressing his sadness and grief over the trauma they have experienced. “It’s a moment of shame,” he said, commenting on a damning new report detailing hundreds of thousands of cases of clerical abuse in France since the 1950s.
The report, released Tuesday by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), also addressed neglect, silence and deficiencies, and even cover-up by Church leaders in dealing with abuse. .
“I wish to express to the victims my sadness and my grief at the trauma they have suffered,” said the Pope in remarks to pilgrims and French-speaking visitors. And he expressed his own shame, “for the Church’s too long failure” to put victims at the center of his concerns. Pope Francis assured them of his prayers. He encouraged the French bishops and religious superiors “to continue to do everything possible so that similar tragedies do not happen again”.
Pope Francis also expressed his “closeness and paternal support” to the priests of France as they go through this “difficult but healthy” ordeal; while calling on all French Catholics “to assume their responsibilities to ensure that the Church is a safe home for all”.
An independent commission established by French Catholic bishops and religious found that an estimated total of 330,000 people in France were victims of sexual abuse in the Church as children, and that between 2,900 and 3,200 priests and religious committed these crimes over a period of 70 years.
CIASE released its findings on Tuesday in a 2,500-page report after a two-and-a-half-year investigation.
Pope Francis learned “with sorrow” and sadness the contents of the report during the recent “ad limina” visit of the French bishops to Rome, the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Matteo Bruni, said on Tuesday. a press conference.
Bruni told reporters that the thoughts and prayers of the Holy Father “go first to the victims” and their “wounds”. He added that Pope Francis was grateful to them for “their courage to speak out” and for “turning to the Church of France, so that, having become aware of this appalling reality and united to the suffering of the Lord for her most vulnerable children, she can take the path of redemption. “
“By his prayers, the Pope entrusts the People of God who are in France, in particular the victims, to the Lord so that He may grant them comfort and consolation and the miracle of healing, with justice,” Bruni concluded.
The CIASE was created by the Episcopal Conference of France (CEF) and the Conference of Religious and Religious of France (CORREF) in 2018, in response to a growing number of historic complaints of sexual abuse.
Its mission was to establish the facts concerning cases of pedophilia within the Catholic Church in France between 1950 and 2020, to understand why and how they occurred and how they were treated, to examine the action of the Church Against Pedophilia and to make recommendations
The Commission is chaired by Jean-Marc Sauvé, a senior French official and former vice-president of the Council of State, who submitted the report on Tuesday to Bishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Rennes, president of the CEF, and to Sister Véronique Margron , President of CORREF. A press conference, broadcast live by the French Catholic channel KTO on Tuesday morning, also brought together representatives of victims’ associations.
Mr. Sauvé briefly introduced the conference by referring to a letter from a victim acknowledging that the intense work carried out by the 21 members of the CIASE could be at times “destabilizing and discouraging”, but that he gave hope for a new beginning.
A member of the Commission, Alice Casagrande, a specialist in child protection issues, recounted the very moving atmosphere during the hearings, saying that the members of the Commission were listeners rather than experts.
Speaking on behalf of the survivors, François Devaux, victim of abuse by the former priest Bernard Preynat of Lyon, and co-founder of the association “La Parole Libérée”, expressed his feeling of “betrayal” in the face of the culture of silence and the “systemic dysfunctions” he faced in his fight. He called for radical reforms in the Church, while thanking the Commission for its valuable work.
While acknowledging that the report cannot be exhaustive, Mr. Sauvé presented its content, offering precise data that has been collected in different fields: theology, medicine, sociology, anthropology, psychiatry or civil and canon law.
More importantly, he said, the investigation established contact with thousands of victims. CIASE has reported between 2,900 and 3,200 child sex predators in Church positions in France since the 1950s.
However, according to the Commission, the estimates are by default, as population surveys show an estimated total of 216,000 (with a margin of error of 50,000) people currently living in France who have been sexually assaulted by Catholic priests and religious, a third of whom have been raped. Adding attacks committed by lay people (especially in schools), this estimate rises to 330,000.
Mr. Sauvé said that in total, five and a half million people (14.5% women and 6.4% men) were sexually assaulted before the age of 18 in France.
Close family and friends are still the contexts where the prevalence of sexual violence is the highest, but they are immediately followed by the Catholic Church where most of the abuse (80%) concerns boys.
The President of CIASE therefore called on the Church to continue “vigorous actions”, recognizing the shortcomings of the past (including the “law of silence”) and improving vocational training and discernment as a means of preventing the phenomenon. He also warned against what he called an excessive “sanctification” of priests.
The CIASE report presents 45 specific recommendations, including stronger internal control mechanisms, a clearer definition of the role of the bishop in order to ensure an impartial review of cases and an increased involvement of the laity in the governance of the Church. .
Calling for a “work of truth, forgiveness and reconciliation”, Mr. Sauvé considered that the Catholic Church is “an essential component of society” and that it must work to “reestablish an alliance” with it.
“The Church can and must do everything to restore what has been damaged and rebuild what has been broken,” he concluded.
Following Mr. Sauve’s presentation, Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort recognized the “appalling” scale of sexual abuse in the Church in France, and thanked the victims for ensuring his determination “to act with them”, and to change the attitudes of ecclesiastical authorities.
The CEF president promised that the bishops of France would take the time to study the report and draw their conclusions at their plenary assembly in November.
The president of the Conference of Religious of France, Sister Véronique Margron, expressed her “infinite sorrow” and her “absolute shame” in the face of what she qualified as “crimes against humanity”.
She noted that the 45 Recommendations represent a “demanding sign of trust in the Church”, which will have to work with other institutions.
Summary of the CIASE report www.ciase.fr/medias/Ciase-Summary-of-the-Final-Report-5-october-2021.pdf
Key words: Abuse, France, Pedophilia, Pedophilia, Pope Francis, Sister Véronique Margron, Archbishop of Moulins-Beaufort, Jean-Marc Sauvé,
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