French bishops kneel as a sign of penance during a ceremony in Lourdes for abuse victims French bishops kneel as a sign of penance during a ceremony in Lourdes for abuse victims  (AFP or licensors)

Church in France recognizes institutional responsibility in abuse

Gathered in Lourdes for their Fall Plenary Assembly from 2-7 November, French bishops have decided to officially recognize the “institutional responsibility of the Church” in sexual abuse cases and their systemic nature.

By Lisa Zengarini

French Bishops have officially acknowledged that the Catholic Church bears an “institutional responsibility” for the thousands of child abuse cases that emerged in a recent report.

The report, which was submitted early in October by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), revealed that at least 216,000 people living in France have been victims of sexual abuse by priests and religious over a period of seventy years, from 1950 to 2020.

Systemic nature of abuse 

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, 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."

The duty of reparation

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,” he said.  Also speaking at the press conference was Father Hugues de Woillemont, who said bishops are willing to meet and listen to all people having an issue with the Church on this matter.

The 45 recommendations of the CIASE Report

Bishops are now focusing on the 45 recommendations of the CIASE Report, which, among other things, call for stronger internal control mechanisms, a clearer definition of the role of the bishop so as to ensure an impartial examination of the cases, and enhancing the involvement of lay people in Church governance.

In March this year, the CEF established a special compensation fund open to donations from bishops, priests, faithful, and anyone wanting to contribute. It has also created a helpline for victims and survivors. 

Penitential rite for the victims 

At 10:45 Saturday morning, the bishops celebrated a penitential act for the victims in the forecourt of the Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire Basilica. 

On the opening of the Assembly earlier this week, Pope Francis sent a message to the bishops encouraging them to carry their “burden with faith and hope,” adding that he too carries it with them.


06 November 2021, 12:04