After three years, an independent inquiry into French Catholic leadership has released their disturbing findings – which is even more damning than many even imagined.
After thousands of interviews with witnesses and victims, the 2,500-page report estimates that since 1950, at least 216,000 children were abused by Catholic leadership. That number rises to an even more astonishing 330,000 when accounting for abuse committed at Catholic schools.
The independent commission was set up by the Bishops Conference of France, which estimates that the abuse was committed by roughly 3,000 clergy members over 70 years.
Victims and advocates say the report is long overdue, and are demanding accountability for the unspeakable crimes. How is the Church responding?
The Pope’s Response
A Vatican statement said Pope Francis “felt pain” upon hearing the report’s findings. It explained that the pontiff is praying for the victims and their “wounds,” and praises “their courage to speak out.”
"His thoughts also turn to the Church in France, and that, in recognising these terrible events and united by the suffering of the Lord for his most vulnerable children, it can take the path of redemption," it read.
Victims are now wondering just what kind of redemption the Church hopes to seek. The commission called for financial compensation for victims, but it seems the Church is instead offering... thoughts and prayers.
“By his prayers the Pope entrusts the People of God who are in France, especially the victims, to the Lord so that He may grant them comfort and consolation and the miracle of healing, with justice," said the director of the Holy See Press Office.
Pope Francis has often had to reckon with the Church’s abusive past. In 2018, the Church offered financial compensation to abuse victims in the United States following yet another bombshell report, offering a payout only if the victim waived the right to sue later.
Critics accused the Church of trying to buy off victims cheaply, in case the statute of limitations on childhood abuses is amended later.
As one lawyer representing abuse victims stated, it’s like trying to “put a Band-Aid on a situation that requires major surgery.”
The Ultimate Betrayal
Victims were treated with a "deep, total and even cruel indifference" said Jean-Marc Sauvé, who spearheaded the inquiry. "There was a whole bunch of negligence, of deficiency, of silence, an institutional cover-up."
The Catholic Church is responsible for "a betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, [and] betrayal of children," stated François Devaux, the founder of a victims’ rights organization in France.
Tragically, many of these crimes are either beyond the statute of limitations, or the abuser is now dead. Out of hundreds of thousands of cases, only 22 are eligible to be prosecuted.
Because legal recourse is out of reach for most of the victims, many are seeking compensation from the Catholic Church. One 73-year-old victim named Martine told AP that the money is symbolic and punitive. “It won’t fix things,” she said. “But it means it will also cost them something.”
The commission itself is calling on the Church to offer financial compensation to the victims. But whether that will actually happen remains to be seen, especially given the Church's shaky record of making amends for past abuse.
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