By Lisa Zengarini
The president of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF), Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Rennes, met the French Interior Minister, Mr. Gérald Darmanin, on Tuesday to discuss the outcome of the Report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE).
The report was released on October 5 following a two-and-a-half-year investigation commissioned by the French Bishops and religious superiors in 2018 in response to a growing number of historical sexual abuse claims. According to the Commission’s findings, an estimated total of 216,000 people currently living in France have been sexually assaulted by Catholic priests and religious between 1950 and 2020.
Looking into Church's practices
A press release issued after yesterday’s meeting says Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort and Mr. Darmanin agreed that the Report is a major “step towards truth” and justice for the victims and commended the CIASE for its extraordinary work.
During the talks, the prelate also referred to his recent comments regarding the seal of Confession, which Mr. Jean-Mark Sauvé, president of CIASE, said should be removed in cases of abuse. The prelate sparked controversy earlier last week by saying in a radio interview that the secrecy of confession is “above” the law of the French Republic. He later apologized for using these inappropriate words. Speaking to the Interior Minister, he further clarified that Christian faith calls Christians to always pursue the Good and to be law-abiding citizens and acknowledged that the scale of sexual abuse on minors revealed by the CIASE report requires the Church to closely look into its practices. It is therefore necessary – he said - to reconcile the intimate nature of the Sacrament of Confession and the indisputable need to protect children.
Child protection “an absolute priority”
The CEF president subsequently reaffirmed bishops’ determination to make child protection “an absolute priority” and to cooperate with the French authorities. In this regard, he recalled that 17 Dioceses across France have already established protocols with prosecution authorities in order to facilitate and speed up the processing of abuse cases.
The prelate confirmed that French bishops will thoroughly examine the CIASE report and its 45 Recommendations during their Fall Plenary Assembly in November. Among other things, the recommendations call for stronger internal control mechanisms, a clearer definition of the role of the bishop so to ensure an impartial examination of the cases, and enhancing the involvement of laypeople in Church governance.
Together against the scourge of sexual abuse in Church and society
He reiterated his “shame and dismay” over the Report, but also his determination to carry out the necessary reforms so that the Church in France can regain the trust of all citizens. To this end he has invited parishes, movements, and communities to read and share the CIASE findings and to work on its recommendations.
Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort has also urged all women and men of goodwill to work together against the scourge of sexual abuse in the Church and society at large.
Pope Francis' personal shame at the CIASE report
On Wednesday last week, Pope Francis expressed his personal shame and that of the entire Church over the CIASE Report: "I wish to express my sadness and pain to the victims for the trauma they have suffered and also our shame, my shame at the Church’s too long failure to place victims at the centre of its concerns”, he said during his weekly General Audience. He encouraged the French Bishops and religious superiors “to continue to make every effort so that similar tragedies will not occur again” and called on Catholics “to assume their responsibilities to ensure that the Church is a safe home for all.”
CEF and the Conference of Men and Women Religious in France (CORREF) have asked Pope Francis to meet the CIASE president and its 21 members.