Over the last seven decades at least 3,000 children were sexually abused by Catholic clergy or officials in France, according to the latest statements from an investigating commission, with many more feared to have been abused.
About 1,500 clergy and Church officials are believed to have perpetrated the abuse, according to the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, making an average number of victims 40 per year, Newsweek reports.
“We must remember this suffering, we must account for it. We are confronted with the shock of the suffering of the victims,” commission head Jean-Marc Sauvé said. “We can only be touched and transformed by meeting these victims.”
The commission was established in June 2019 to examine abuse claims dating back to the 1950s. A hotline resulted in 5,000 phone calls. The commission does not yet know how to consolidate cases from its own inquiries and from the hotline, Sauvé said.
About 30% of the victims are over 70 years old, and about 50% are between 50 and 70 years old.
“I am profoundly convinced that there are many more victims,” said Sauvé, who is a longtime civil servant, former vice-president of the French State Council, and president of the French Institute of Administrative Sciences.
The commission has asked for victims to come forward through the end of October. Reviews of Church archives have now resumed after being suspended due to the coronavirus epidemic, but its final report is delayed, Agence France Presse reports. It is expected to be released in September or October 2021.
In November 2019 the Catholic bishops of France approved plans to offer financial compensation to victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Any person recognized by their bishop as a victim will be eligible to receive money, and the Church in France will appeal for donations to cover the costs.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop Emeritus of Lyon, was found guilty in March 2019 of failing to report to authorities the alleged sexual abuse of dozens of minors by a priest in his diocese. He was given a six-month suspended prison sentence.
He appealed the sentence and was acquitted on appeal in January, but his resignation as Archbishop of Lyon was accepted in March.
France last year extended the statute of limitations on sexual crimes against minors from 20 years to 30.
The continued revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and subsequent cover-up by some Church officials in France come alongside similar revelations in countries such as the United States, Ireland, Australia, Chile, Poland, Argentina, and Germany.
Pope Francis has approved new global norms mandating sex abuse reporting in the Catholic Church. These norms took effect in June 2019.
The norms establish that clerics and religious are obliged to report sexual abuse accusations to the local ordinary where the abuse occurred. Every diocese must have a mechanism for reporting abuse.
When a suffragan bishop is accused, the metropolitan archbishop is placed in charge of the investigation.
Sexual abuse of minors is not the only focus. With the new norms, the coercion of seminarians and religious into sexual activity through the misuse of authority is placed in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in canon law.