An investigation into sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church has found that an estimated 216,000 children were victims of abuse at the hands of clergy since 1950, Jean-March Sauve, head of the commission that compiled the report, said on Tuesday.
The scandal in France is the latest to hit the Roman Catholic Church, which has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.
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 at a public, online presentation of the report that the problem was still there. He added that the Church had until the decade of the 2000s showed complete indifference to victims. State prosecutors have been alerted about some of the cases the commission encountered.
The abuse was systemic, he said. The Church not only did not take the necessary measures to prevent abuse but also turned a blind eye, failing to report abuse and sometimes knowingly putting children in touch with predators.
Sauve said the commission itself had identified around 2,700 victims, but that a wide-ranging study by research and polling groups had estimated that there had been around 216,000 victims. The number could go up further to 330,000 when including abuse by lay members.
“You are a disgrace to our humanity,” Francois Devaux, who set up victims’ association La Parole Liberee, told church representatives at the public presentation of the report, before Sauve took the floor.”In this hell there have been abominable mass crimes … but there has been even worse, betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children,” Devaux said, also accusing the Church of cowardice.
In an interview to Journal du Dimanche paper, Sauve said that the French Catholic Church has had an estimated 3,000 pedophiles in its ranks over the past 70 years.
Monsignor Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, head of the French conference of bishops, said he and his fellow bishops wanted to express to victims their ‘shame at the abuse revealed in the report’. The head of the Catholic Church, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis), expressed “sorrow” over the report.