FRENCH BISHOPS NAME SENIOR CIVIL SERVANT TO HEAD INDEPENDENT ABUSE PANEL
By Tom Heneghan
April 26, 2016
'I'm not an enemy of the Church' says new commissioner criticised by conservative Catholic bloggers
The French bishops have named a respected senior civil servant to head their independent commission on sexual abuse of minors, prompting arch-conservative Catholics to try to discredit him as too liberal for the post.
Traditionalist Catholic bloggers denounced the decision to name Alain Christnacht at the head of a commission of experts such as retired judges, doctors, psychologists and parents to advise bishops on how to deal with abuse cases.
The bishops created the commission after it emerged that Cardinal Philippe Barbarin had reacted slowly to past abuse cases in his Lyon archdiocese and then mishandled the public debate that followed. The bloggers said Alain Christnacht, a classic French "mandarin" who was briefly chief of staff to a justice minister after she pushed through the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013, was known as someone who "fought against the doctrine of the Church".
Christnacht, who describes himself as a liberal Catholic and has worked often with Socialist politicians, hit back in interviews by saying critics who say one cannot be Catholic and left-wing do not share "the position of the pope". "I'm not an enemy of the Church," said the nominee, who has long advised the bishops on issues linked to France’s official secularist policy of laïcité. "It would be curious if the bishops, who know me, would have appointed an enemy of the Church."
Christnacht, 61, has also been on the board of the French Scouts and Guides, the large Catholic scouting association, since 2007. Church sources said the traditionalist reaction was expected and would not affect his appointment. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin met 220 priests of his Lyon archdiocese on Monday to discuss the abuse scandal and the Church's reaction. A victim of an abusive priest addressed the closed-door meeting.
"The cardinal admitted that the diocese had committed errors in its management and appointment of certain priests," said a communique after the meeting. "The cardinal recalled the importance for victims of sexual abuse of priests to see their right to truth and justice recognised."
The statement said the archdiocese would set up a telephone hotline for victims, staffed by clinical psychologists, and a panel of experts - a judge, psychiatrist, psychologist, physician, canonist, social worker and a mother and father -- to study difficult cases and recommend action. The meeting also considered further measures such as further training for Church staff and new criteria for appointing new priests to parishes.