La Croix International [France]
November 29, 2021
By Céline Hoyeau
Catholic Academy blasts abuse report released last October, but the independent commission’s head, Jean-Marc Sauvé, defends his group’s work in an exclusive interview with “La Croix”
The president and seven other members of the Catholic Academy of France (l’Académie catholique de France) have sharply attacked the country’s Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) for producing what they consider to be a skewed document that could be “ruinous” for institutional Catholicism.
In private letters to the president of French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) and the papal nuncio to France, which were leaked to the media, the Academy members say the CIASE report was wrong to impute the Church with systemic responsibility for sexual abuse.
The eight members of the Academy – including its president, Hugues Portelli, a French senator and current dean of social sciences and economics at the Institut Catholique of Paris – questioned certain juridical and theological aspects of the CIASE report.
They say the CIASE report is overly aggressive, while denouncing “its methodological weaknesses” and “its sometimes hazardous analyses”.
Ironically, Jean-Marc Sauvé, the respected French civil servant whom the bishops picked to head CIASE, is also a member of the Catholic Academy.
The body is made up of 70 influential French Catholics, 85% of whom are laypersons.
The eight signatories of the scathing letter admit that the CIASE report – also known as the Sauvé Report – “was born of a courageous and justified approach”.
But they then relativize its importance by insisting that its findings “can only serve to guide the action of the Church and its faithful”.
In other words, its recommendations are merely suggestions that do not have to be – and should not be – followed.
“Some of them could be ruinous for the Church; others call into question (its) spiritual and sacred nature,” the eight Academy members write.
One of their main critiques concerns the high number of alleged victims the report estimates.
According to a Vatican source, criticism of the Sauvé Report’s figures “circulates widely, all the way to the top of the Church”.
Everyone in the Roman Curia is still trying to understand why the French bishops decided to entrust an independent body with such a report and then ask it to offer recommendations.
“It would be important for CIASE to come and present itself and its work to the pope,” said this source.
In fact, members of CIASE were supposed to go to the Vatican for a meeting on December 9, but it has been postponed.
La Croix’s Céline Hoyeau spoke with Sauvé about the latest developments in his commission’s report.
La Croix: How did you react to the letter written by members of the Catholic Academy, criticizing the CIASE report on sexual abuse in the Church?
Jean-Marc Sauvé: I was expecting attacks on the CIASE report and therefore I am not at all surprised.
I sensed that they would be more precocious and very strong, in particular from traditionalist circles. It came from the Catholic Academy.
The criticism of our report is of course legitimate. I wrote that in the introduction.
But in this case, I have feelings of sadness, and even of grief, because I myself am a member of this Academy.
The rules of fair trial and simple confraternity could have justified prior discussions, even an adversarial debate.
None of what happened was elegant or fair, even if I have great respect for some of the signatories.
There is the text of the Academy and how it was sent to Church authorities.
The text is not particularly kind, but the way it was communicated, which remains secret, is a web of venomous attacks accompanied by an injunction to the Church to do nothing “either in terms of moral and compensatory reparation or in terms of modification of behavior or rules if the objective truth is not established”.
This injunction is particularly inappropriate in view of the decisions already taken by the Church and the modesty of the arguments put forth by these members of the Catholic Academy.
This is also an insult to the victims.
The signatories of this text have acted in accordance with the worst of a certain Catholic culture, that is to say, secretly, without contradictory debate and by going first to the authorities.
I say this all the more readily since Hugues Portelli had invited me in mid-September to give an account of the CIASE report to the members of the Academy on October 14.
He withdrew the invitation sinedie, and without any real explanation, shortly after I said yes.
What do you think is the purpose of this?
To ensure that the Church is freed from having to make painful compensations and reforms that are necessary and profound.
The signatories of this text insinuate that CIASE is driven by an ideological agenda, completely inverting and distorting things.
In reality, they seek to destabilize our state of affairs in order to disqualify our conclusions that they bristle at.
The first victim here is the Church, which they attack head-on, even though it took great courage (for the bishops) to create CIASE, give it complete freedom, and then take unprecedented decisions in November.
The second victim is the people who have been sexually assaulted, who are denied, scorned and held hostage despite some oratory precautions.
The third victim is the service of truth and, ultimately, the Catholic Academy itself, which is facing an unprecedented wave of resignations and is doing everything in its power to become a small group.
Are you fundamentally concerned about the criticisms leveled at your report? How do you intend to respond?
It seems to me that nothing in this document calls the analysis of CIASE into question and, in particular, the opinion of those of its members who expected different results from the survey of the general population — i.e. that there would be a smaller number of victims.
In saying that, I am talking about myself first. You have to have the humility to acknowledge facts that you don’t expect and that you don’t like.
We will demonstrate this. I am currently working with my colleagues on a refutation of the Catholic Academy’s document that is as complete and accurate as possible.
In the meantime, I invite this Academy to undertake without delay, with all the scientific guarantees required, a study on sexual violence in our society and in the Catholic Church in particular.
I calmly await its results.