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France: Church sex abuse: Thousands of paedophiles in French Church, inquiry says

Secular Law vs Canon

Saturday 9 October 2021, by siawi3

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58781265

Church sex abuse: Thousands of paedophiles in French Church, inquiry says

Published

October 4, 21 6 days ago

Mass in a Paris church (file picture)Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, (File Picture)

Thousands of paedophiles have operated within the French Catholic Church since 1950, the head of a panel investigating abuses by church members says.

Jean-Marc Sauvé told French media that the commission had found evidence of 2,900 to 3,200 abusers - out of a total of 115,000 priests and other clerics.

“That is a minimal estimate,” he added.

The commission is to release a lengthy report on Tuesday. It is based on church, court and police archives, as well as interviews with victims.

The inquiry was commissioned by the French Catholic Church in 2018, following a number of scandals in other countries.

Also read:
VOICES: Ex-nuns share stories of Church abuse
VATICAN REACTION: Pope condemns sex abuse ’atrocities’

Mr Sauvé, a senior civil servant, told France’s Le Monde newspaper that the panel had handed over evidence to prosecutors in 22 cases where criminal action could still be launched.

He added that bishops and other senior church officials had been told of other allegations against people who were still alive.

Commission members included doctors, historians, sociologists and theologians. More than 6,500 victims and witnesses were contacted over two and a half years. The final report is 2,500 pages long.

Media caption, Brigitte, a survivor of child sex abuse by a chaplain, explains why she is ready to speak now (From 2019) Video here

Christopher Lamb, of the Roman Catholic publication The Tablet, told the BBC that abuse scandals had plunged the Church into “its greatest crisis in... 500 years”.

Earlier this year Pope Francis changed the Catholic Church’s laws to explicitly criminalise sexual abuse, in its biggest overhaul of the criminal code for decades.

The new rules make sex abuse, grooming minors, possessing child pornography and covering up abuse an offence under Canon Law.

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Source: https://www.secularism.org.uk/opinion/2021/10/only-secular-law-can-bring-justice-to-victims-of-mass-clerical-abuse-in-france

Only secular law can bring justice to victims of mass clerical abuse in France

Posted: Thu, 07 Oct 2021

by Keith Porteous Wood

Only secular law can bring justice to victims of mass clerical abuse in France

Keith Porteous Wood says France’s deference to the Catholic Church has obstructed justice for hundreds of thousands of abuse victims.

An inquiry commissioned by the Catholic Church into clerical abuse in France has just concluded that victims of both clerics and laity (teachers, for example) totalled around a third of a million since 1950.

In no country in the world has such a high figure been included in an official report. Nearly all victims were minors or vulnerable adults.

The commission, to its credit, held exhaustive hearings in every major town in France. But listening to so many harrowing testimonies took its toll. The president of the commission was not alone in needing psychological assistance.

At the public launch of the inquiry report, abuse survivor François Devaux told Church officials: “You are a disgrace to our humanity. In this hell there have been abominable mass crimes...betrayal of morality, [and] betrayal of children”.

The report concluded: “The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence.” Its president accused the Church of “sometimes knowingly putting children in touch with predators.”

Prior to this week, the president of the commission was sticking hard to his estimate of 10,000+ victims. In correspondence with him I pointed out the implausibility of this low figure. The final number arrived at by his multidisciplinary team is 330,000.

The estimated number of perpetrators, just 3,000, remains bafflingly small – it equates to 2.6% of priests. In contrast, state-commissioned inquiries by Australia and England & Wales both found 7% of Catholic priests to be perpetrators. The resultant ratio of victims to priests and lay perpetrators cited by the report is a completely implausible - 110:1. A much more realistic figure would be in the range of 10,000 to 30,000 perpetrators - maybe too many for the bishops to handle? Let’s hope not.

The key question is, what happens next? Having studied the French Catholic Church closely over the last two years, I’m convinced it’s institutionally incapable of putting its own house in order. Even while the report was being written, bishops were distancing themselves from accepting any responsibility. They refused to let their fabulously rich church bear even a centime of the meagre compensation (they recoiled from even using the word), determining that it should be dependent on the amount raised by public subscription. It’s thought reparations were conditional on the abandonment of any civil or criminal action. Quite a bargain, for them.

While some give the Church credit for commissioning the report, in my opinion, the Church only did so because it realised that if it did not, the scandals would sooner or later result in a state inquiry. Such an inquiry would have the power to require the production of documents, summon witnesses and examine them under oath.

One of the commission’s recommendations was revisions to canon ’law’. Canon ’law’ is not an appropriate mechanism for enforcing such rampant criminality; for example, the maximum penalty is removal from the clerical state. The Vatican was urged by the United Nations in 2014 to require such abuse to be reported to the secular authorities, something the current Pope, to his shame, still refuses to do so. He only acts on clerical abuse when absolutely forced to, and usually as little as he can get away with.

It is beyond regrettable that the French state did not institute its own inquiry, as Australia, Germany and England & Wales have done. In contrast, the French National Assembly ignored the matter almost entirely, and the senate’s hearings amounted to little more than the Church being asked to sort the matter out itself. That was a monumental failure of secularism.

Devaux accused the Church of cowardice. I charge the state of cowering before the Church. It is almost as if the Revolution never happened; for all practical purposes, the French Church remains above the law and that is the greatest single reason for this, doubtlessly centuries-old, catastrophe.

A state inquiry is still desperately needed. Its terms of reference could be much wider than the commission’s. They must include reform of the law and an examination of why around 25 bishops have failed to observe the mandatory reporting law with complete impunity.

The papal adviser on abuse Prof Hans Zollner said yesterday: “If a bishop has not done what the law of his State, and Canon Law, demands of him, then yes [he should resign].” So does that mean we are about to have 25 vacancies? Somehow I doubt it.

France’s mandatory reporting law, and the statutes of limitation on abuse and reporting, need urgent reform. As is also needed in the UK, there must be a law requiring those in institutions, including churches, to report reasonable suspicions of abuse to the secular authorities, with safeguards protecting those doing so in good faith. An example of how that might look is here.

No solution is possible without a fit-for-purpose secular law on abuse, and enforcement of such law without fear or favour. France, at present, lacks both.