Bishop Olivier Leborgne Bishop Olivier Leborgne  (AFP or licensors)

Bishop Leborgne: there is no turning back against child abuse

The bishop of Arras and vice-president of the French Bishops' Conference talks about the concrete measures decided by the their recent Plenary Assembly in Lourdes against child abuse in the Church.

By Vatican News staff reporter

The Catholic Bishops of France have just ended their Plenary Assembly in Lourdes. The meeting is being described by many as a "landmark" one, scoring great progress in the fight against child sexual abuse following the CIASE Report. Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras, told Vatican News' Manuella Affejee that, indeed, French bishops are determined to tackle the problem at its root. He said he believes "a huge step forward" has been made in recognizing responsibility and in the French Church's commitment to restorative justice.

The CIASE Report

The recently-released report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) details the extent of abuse since 1950. At least 216,000 people are estimated to have suffered sexual abuse in France at the hands of priests, religious, and other individuals associated with the Church.

Bishop Leborgne noted that it is Pope Francis himself who "has entrusted us with this mission". This is why "we are asking him to send visitors to evaluate the way we have dealt with cases of abuse", he explained, noting that in some countries Bishops have had left office following cases of verified serious misconduct. "We are willing to do whatever the Pope tells us to do," he said.

Commitment  for justice

Bishop Leborgne went on to speak about the creation of a new independent national compensation body. He explained that this initiative stems from "the desire for true justice and true mediation". He stressed that cases cannot be handled by those who are implicated in them; and for this reason, the French bishops have asked Ms Marie Derain de Vaucresson, who was a senior official in the Ministry of Justice and an advocate for children's rights, to lead the body. "We felt it was important to rely on the competence and independence we don't have", added Bishop Leborgne.

Measures decided at the Assembly

Many measures adopted by the bishops concern Church governance and methods highlighted by the CIASE Report. "For example", he said, "we have nine working groups and we have decided that they will be entrusted to laypeople, who will form their own teams".  He expressed hope that these teams will be able to involve the victims.

Bishop Leborgne further added that the national canonical criminal court - already established by the Bishops in the wake of the CIASE report - will begin its work on 1 April 2022. "As for us, by the end of this week we will appoint the nine laypeople to chair the commissions; we will meet them every three months until spring of 2023, when we will organise a meeting together to evaluate what has been done and what remains to be done", he said.

Doing everything that must be done

The prelate went on to say that he is determined to do whatever it takes, although at one point he had hesitated, fearing subconsciously that he might have something to lose. "But, somehow, I felt it wasn't right", he said. "While listening to the victims, I said to myself: 'No, I want to start from them, from their needs, from their cry'". He added that he is no longer afraid of what the Church might risk or lose and that he believes all the bishops feel the same: "I believe that there is something profoundly evangelical in this", he noted. "We are deeply convinced that it is the Lord who is calling us today, who has pushed us on this path, and that we cannot turn back", he concluded.


09 November 2021, 11:05