In March, Jean-Marc Sauvé estimated that the independent commission he led would find at least 10,000 cases of abuse committed in the French Catholic Church since 1950. The final figures, however, reveal a far greater horror.

Three years of investigations concluded that more than 216 thousand children were victims of pedophile priests in the Gallic country in the last 70 years, a figure that could exceed 330 thousand, if the abuse of lay people linked to religious institutions is included.

The findings – each more egregious than the last – were published yesterday in a devastating 2,500-page report prepared by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase), which concluded that the church “showed deep indifference and protected herself”.

The investigation was carried out at the request of the French bishops themselves, who after the revelations expressed their “shame” and apologized to the victims.

This report is a heavy burden both in the literal and figurative sense,” said Jean-Marc Sauvé, president of the Ciase, when delivering the document to the Episcopal Conference (CEF) and the Conference of Men and Women Religious of France (Corref).

The French church agreed in November 2018 to establish the commission after huge and repeated child abuse scandals rocked the Catholic Church at home and abroad.

It is a major blow to the Catholic Church“, says Marcial Sánchez Gaete, a Chilean expert in Church History, who states that the enormous number of victims revealed in the French report makes it possible to state that “the cover-up at the level of the Catholic Church has been systematic”.

Jean-Marc Sauve presented the report.

Jean-Marc Sauve presented the report.

It cannot be said that the abuses are sporadic, there is a system of abuses. If one reviews the antecedents of these cases in other countries, one can see that they have the same way of abusing,” he adds.

For his part, Juan Miguel Espinoza, professor of the Theology department of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, points out that the impact of the report for the Catholic Church is even greater if it is considered that it is part of a chain of serious revelations that occurred at least in the last 10 years, first in the United States, then in Ireland, Germany, Australia and other countries.

It is the confirmation of a systemic and structural problem that exists within the Catholic Church and that reaffirms that this is a priority that needs to be addressed globally. This report confirms what we already know, but with increasingly strong and shocking figures”, points to this newspaper.

The French case as an incentive

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of learning about abuses in the French Church is knowing that it is not a new problem and that, for sure, there are still thousands of victims who remain silent around the world.

Unlike what usually happens in most cases of this type, in France the investigation was requested by the French bishops themselves. This is an initiative similar to that carried out in Germany, where a couple of years ago a report prepared by commission of the Episcopal Conference of that country documented 3,677 cases of sexual abuse committed by 1,670 Catholic religious between 1946 and 2014.

If something positive is to be drawn, it is that this report revealed today was requested by the bishops of France, unlike other cases such as Australia, the United States or Chile, where it has been rather the civil justice that has pressed for this. cases are revealed and processed.” Says Espinoza.

The revelations are a serious blow to the Catholic Church.

The revelations are a serious blow to the Catholic Church.

This is an initiative that comes from the French bishops’ conference itself with an independently formed commission. It seems that at least awareness is beginning to be generated within the bishops of important churches such as the French and the German, which had already taken the initiative before. It is necessary that the Church itself take the initiative to investigate in depth and to take charge of these acts.” He adds.

Along the same lines, Sánchez Gaete considers that reports such as the one published in France should encourage more countries to dare to advance in this process.

The countries and fundamentally the Catholic Church, through its episcopal conferences, have to be able to begin to search for the truth. The problem is that many times they themselves are mired by abuse or cover-up, as we have seen in the United States and other countries.” He says.

Consequences and challenges for the Pope

For both experts, the most important thing in all investigation processes and allegations of abuse in the Church is to put the victims first.

It is the victims who have had the courage to report, to remember the abuse and those who suffer the consequences of these acts”, says Sánchez Gaete, who recalls that in Chile, his country, there are several open investigations into these acts.

They also consider that after the revelation of the report in France, the challenge lies in the responses that the French Church and Justice will adopt to the complaints.

Elorian priest Atsima Ngnari prays for the victims of child sexual abuse during a special service at the Sainte Jeanne d'Arc de la Mutualité Catholic Church in Saint Denis, outside Paris, this Tuesday, October 5.

Elorian priest Atsima Ngnari prays for the victims of child sexual abuse during a special service at the Sainte Jeanne d’Arc de la Mutualité Catholic Church in Saint Denis, outside Paris, this Tuesday, October 5.

It is clear that in the long and medium term this affects confidence and will cause fewer people to join the Catholic Church, but in the short term we must see how justice works in France. This is very important because as long as the cases are not taken to criminal or civil justice in the corresponding countries, these pedophiles can be left out of the Church, but they remain free to continue abusing.” Says Sánchez Gaete.

For his part, Espinoza highlights that at the level of the Church and the Pope, who has made the fight against abuses in the Church his battlehorse, this is an invitation to continue implementing reforms that help to rethink the roles of authority and the exercise of power in the Catholic Church.

There needs to be clearer structures of accountability, bishops cannot be petty monarchs in their dioceses who do not answer to anyone but the Pope, nor can it be that priests only answer to bishops. Structures have to be created where these surveillance and care mechanisms are generated”, he points out.

Sánchez Gaete highlights that the Pope has already made a change in canon law where it is established what are the individual and collective responsibilities of abuses in the Catholic Church, and also what to do with the abuser and the victim.

He took that step and now he has to continue taking others. He has to continue to pick up the phone directly and call the different bishops’ conferences so they can start with the investigations. However, there are many cardinals who do not agree with the Pope’s policies and who prefer that the Church worry about other issues. It is a very big challenge“, he adds.

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