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Pope Francis and the members of the French Bishops' Conference presidency: From left to right, Bishop Olivier Leborgne, Bishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, Bishop Dominique Blanchet, and Fr Hugues de Woillemont. Pope Francis and the members of the French Bishops' Conference presidency: From left to right, Bishop Olivier Leborgne, Bishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, Bishop Dominique Blanchet, and Fr Hugues de Woillemont.  (Vatican Media)

Pope praises "dignity" of French bishops in tackling abuse crisis

A few hours after meeting with Pope Francis, the President of the French Bishops' Conference, Bishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, and the two Vice-Presidents, Bishop Olivier Leborgne and Bishop Dominique Blanchet, speak to the press.

By Cyprien Viet

During a press briefing held at the French Seminary in Rome, members of the presidency of the Bishops' Conference of France noted that their Monday meeting with Pope Francis was an annual custom, in order to report on the work of their recent plenary assembly.

This year, the bishops, who met in Lourdes from 2 to 8 November, focused in particular on the CIASE report. Its publication on 5 October caused shock in France, particularly with the survey that showed there have been 330,000 victims of sexual violence within the Catholic Church since 1950.

Bishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the Bishops' Conference, explained that the French bishops experienced a "conversion" during this assembly in Lourdes, and Bishop Olivier Leborgne even spoke of a "spiritual adventure", which led the bishops to put listening to and caring for victims at the centre of their approach. This includes assuming institutional responsibility over and above individual failures.

A "dignified" attitude

During the press briefing, the President of Bishops' Conference explained that in their meeting on Monday in the Vatican, "the Pope underlined the dignity of our attitude and our way of taking into account the CIASE report, and he encouraged us to continue to do so in a synodal manner." The report therefore remains a valid basis for work, despite the recent controversies.

The Pope, who will receive the Head of the Commission leading the investigation, Jean-Marc Sauvé, at a date yet to be determined, showed interest in certain elements that the bishops were able to explain to him directly, in particular historical data on the way in which the Church of France used to deal with "problem priests". 

More specific and current aspects of the treatment of abuse of minors were also discussed during the Bishops' meetings with Cardinal Ouellet (Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops) and Cardinal Braz de Aviz (Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life), who had been made aware of the CIASE report.

With regard to the other European countries, some rather informal exchanges took place. An upcoming meeting in January between the French Bishops' Conference and the presidencies of the bishops' conferences of Germany and Switzerland will allow for an exchange of experience, with other surveys carried out using a different methodology.

In his exchange with the heads of the French Bishops' Conference, the Pope himself referred back to the meeting of the episcopates in February 2019, and is determined to "do all the work necessary" to tackle the evil at its roots, at the global level.

The challenge for the bishops is to live a "spiritual journey" and "place themselves before the Lord", assuming their responsibilities "before the victims and before Christ".

Resignation of Bishop Aupetit

With regard to the recent resignation of Archbishop Michel Aupetit, now Archbishop Emeritus of Paris, "the Pope confided to us his sadness at having had to take this decision," considering that "the climate that had been created no longer allowed him to govern."

Pope Francis expressed "his esteem for the pastoral reaction of Archbishop Aupetit" and ironically referred to "the beautiful souls who cry out, without accepting that bishops can be sinners", an attitude which contrasts with that of "the people of God who pray, who suffer," added Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort.

14 December 2021, 09:38