Catholic Bishops in France have officially recognised the institutional responsibility of the church in sexual abuse cases.
They were responding to a report published last month by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church which found that at least 216,000 people in France had been victims of sexual abuse by priests between 1950 and 2020. It’s believed that number could rise to 330,000 when including abuse by lay members of the church.
Most of the victims were boys, many of them aged between 10 and 13.
The report said the scale of abuse was unprecedented, with around 2,900-3,200 suspected paedophiles in the French church over the last 70 years.
This weekend at a gathering in Lourdes around 120 archbishops, Bishops and lay people took part in a penitential act for the victims in the forecourt of the Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire Basilica. A photograph of a sculpture representing the head of a weeping child was unveiled at the site.
Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, Chairman of the Bishops' Conference of France (CEF), said bishops are “upset and overwhelmed” by the findings and have agreed to recognize the “systemic nature” of abuse in the Church in France. They admit that these crimes were not committed only by isolated individuals, but were made possible “by a general context, a mentality and a series of practices within the Church that allowed these events to happen but also to reoccur, preventing them from being reported and sanctioned."
Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort added that this recognition implies “an obligation of justice and reparation”: “We are aware that this step is necessary to enter a path that allows us today to ask for forgiveness in truth.”