5th October, 2021
French Catholic priests have sexually abused more than 200,000 children over the past 70 years, a major investigation released on Tuesday found.
Its authors accused the Catholic Church of turning a blind eye for too long.
The church had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference for years,” protecting itself rather than the victims of what was systemic abuse, said Jean-Marc Sauve, head of the commission that compiled the report.
Most of the victims were boys, he said, many of them aged between 10 and 13.
The church not only did not take the necessary measures to prevent abuse but also failed to report it and sometimes knowingly put children in touch with predators, he said.
The head of the French conference of bishops, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said the Church was shamed. He asked for forgiveness and promised to act.
The revelations in France are the latest to rock the Roman Catholic Church, after a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children.
The commission was established by Catholic bishops in France at the end of 2018 to shed light on abuses and restore public confidence in the church at a time of dwindling congregations. It has worked independently from the Church.
Sauve said the problem was still there.
He added that the church had until the 2000s shown complete indifference to victims and that it only started to really change its attitude in 2015-2016.
The Catholic Church’s teaching on subjects such as sexuality, obedience and the sanctity of the priesthood helped create blind spots which allowed sexual abuse by clergy to happen, Sauve said.
He said the church needed to reform the way it approached those issues to rebuild trust with society.
A wide-ranging study by research and polling groups estimated that there had been around 216,000 victims, and the number could rise to 330,000 when including abuse by lay members.
Sauve said the scale was unprecedented, with most other investigations of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuses focusing on victims identified individually.
There have been around 2,900-3,200 suspected paedophiles in the French church over the last 70 years, he added.