French clergy sexually abused more than 200,000 children over the past 70 years, a major investigation released yesterday found, and its authors said the Catholic Church had turned a blind eye to the “scourge” for too long.
he 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.
“Faced with this scourge, for a very long time the Catholic Church’s immediate reaction was to protect itself as an institution and it has shown complete, even cruel, indifference to those having suffered abuse,” the report said.
The revelations showed the problem in France was more widespread than previously thought. They are the latest to rock the Catholic Church, after a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world.
Pope Francis acknowledged the victims’ courage in coming forward. “First of all, his thoughts go to the victims, with great sorrow, for their wounds,” a Vatican statement said.
“His thoughts go to the church of France, so that, in the awareness of this terrible reality, it may embark on a path of redemption.”
The head of the French conference of bishops, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said the church was shamed. Calling the report a “bombshell”, he asked for forgiveness and promised to act.
The commission was established by French bishops in 2018 to shed light on abuses and restore public confidence in the church. It worked independently.
Mr Sauvé said the problem was still there. He added that the church had until the 2000s shown complete indifference to victims and only started to change its attitude in 2015-2016.
It must take responsibility for what happened, the commission said, and ensure reports of abuse were transmitted to judicial authorities. It must also provide victims with adequate financial compensation.
The height of the abuse was in 1950-1970, the commission said, with an apparent resurgence in the 1990s.
Many cases are covered by the statute of limitations, but the commission stressed the church should provide compensation, no matter when an offence was committed.
Francois Devaux, a victim of church abuse and founder of a victims’ association, told church representatives: “You are a disgrace to our humanity.”