French Catholic Church faces up to child sex abuse report

AFP
France's Catholic bishops will announce their plans to prevent child sexual abuse by members of the clergy and compensate the thousands of victims in recent decades.
AFP
French Catholic Church faces up to child sex abuse report
AFP

Catholic bishops kneel on Saturday as a sign of penance during a ceremony at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes towards victims of pedocriminalit in the Church. Their annual meeting began on November 2 in the southwestern French city. The week focused on the Sauve report on child sexual abuse in the Church.

France's Catholic bishops will announce their plans to prevent child sexual abuse by members of the clergy and compensate the thousands of victims in recent decades.

The 120 members of the Bishops' Conference of France meeting at the Catholic shrine of Lourdes will decide what measures to take after several days debating their response behind closed doors.

The vote comes after a landmark inquiry by an independent commission confirmed extensive sexual abuse of minors by priests dating from the 1950s to 2020.

The 2,500-page report detailed abuse of 216,000 minors by clergy over the period, a number that climbs to 330,000 when claims against lay members of the Church are included, such as teachers at Catholic schools.

The commission's president denounced the "systemic character" of efforts to shield clergy from prosecution and issued 45 recommendations of corrective measures.

In particular, the Church was urged to pay reparations even though most cases are well beyond the statute of limitations.

On Friday, France's bishops for the first time formally recognized that the Church bore an "institutional responsibility" for the abuse, and senior members of the clergy knelt in prayer on Saturday in a show of penance.

Yesterday's response will be the "concrete translation" of the inquiry's recommendations, Luc Crepy, the bishop of Versailles and president of the CEF committee overseeing the issue, told journalists Sunday.

Hugues de Woillemont, a CEF spokesman, later assured that all claims of compensation would be examined by a national Church commission, including those dating back decades. It will be presided by a female judge specializing in the protection of minors.

Bishops are also expected to specify how the compensation fund will be financed, in particular addressing the controversial proposal of asking parishioners to contribute.

The independent commission called on the Church to instead rely on sales of its extensive real estate holdings across France.

"If we have to sell property, we will sell it," one bishop said.

The bishops are also expected to commit to deadlines for implementing the new measures, some of which could require Vatican approval. But compensation is something the Church in France could put in place relatively quickly, and the CEF has already promised that the first payments will be made in 2022.

Questions of doctrine still appeared to be a problem last month, when the government summoned the Archbishop of Reims, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort.

He had provoked anger by saying priests were not obliged to report sexual abuse if they heard about it during confession.

He was later forced to retract his comments.

Protecting children from sexual abuse is an "absolute priority" for the Church, said the archbishop after meeting Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin at the request of President Emmanuel Macron.

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