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The Bishops of France meet in Lourdes for their plenary assembly The Bishops of France meet in Lourdes for their plenary assembly  (AFP or licensors)

French Bishops pledge deep changes after sexual abuse report

The Catholic Bishops of France conclude their Autumn Plenary Assembly with a promise to renew Church governance in response to an in-depth report on clerical sexual abuse.

By Devin Watkins

As French Bishops wrapped up their Fall general meeting on Monday, the president of the Bishops’ Conference acknowledged that the Church in France must set out on a path of purification and renewal.

In his speech concluding the assembly, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said the Bishops have voted to approve a “vast renewal of our governance practices at the diocesan level and at the national level of the Church in France.”

His words come on the heels of a recently-released report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), which details the extent of abuse since 1950. At least 216,000 people have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of priests and religious in France.

"Thanks to CIASE,” said the Archbishop of Rheims, “we see—and it is a frightening observation—that strong relationships, the structuring relationships of humanity, can always be perverted.”

Institutional responsibility

Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort noted that the Bishops have publicly recognized their “institutional responsibility” and set out on a path of “recognition and reparation, opening up the possibility of mediation and compensation for victims.”

He added that the Church in France has taken this step “while thinking of each and every one of the victims, of each child—little boys, little girls, and teenagers—who secretly cry in the depths of their souls and will likely do so until the last day of their adult lives.”

Deep changes to come

The Archbishop said that the time has come for a deep change to take place at an institutional level.

“Starting from the consideration for victims,” he said, “we have freely decided to begin working on how our church functions in a broad way.”

He pointed out that these steps coincide with the ongoing Synodal process, opened by Pope Francis in October.

Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort said the Church cannot be consumed by navel-gazing or “self-glorification”. Rather, she must welcome a multitude of perspectives, including that offered by women, while seeking ways to consult with the faithful and listen to their suggestions.

Careful use of terms

The Archbishop also warned against the risk of confusion regarding the “spiritual fatherhood” of the priest.

“We must be vigilant and clear, not being deceived by the words we use,” he said. “It seems to me that the metaphor of fatherhood should be scrutinized, since there also exists an incestuous fatherhood that must be rejected with horror.”

True fatherhood, explained the French Archbishop, “necessarily leads a person to adulthood and emancipation.”

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08 November 2021, 15:42