French bishops set to weigh damning child abuse revelations at annual conference

Agence France Presse [Paris, France]

November 2, 2021

[Via France 24]

French Catholic bishops kicked off their annual conference on Tuesday, set to pour over a shock report last month that detailed massive child abuse of 216,000 minors spanning 70 years.

The 120 bishops from across France are to devote nearly half their week-long meeting to “the fight against violence and sexual aggression directed at minors”, according to the published agenda.

Some victims were invited to join the meeting, but many declined, denouncing the decision to make the sexual abuse scandal just one of several topics — rather than the sole issue on the agenda.

The gathering, which started with a period of silence to honour the victims, takes place in the southern town of Lourdes — considered by the Catholic church to be a holy site and one of the world’s top pilgrimage destinations.

Ahead of the conference, the bishops said they would examine the question of the church’s institutional responsibility for the mass abuse, as well as a mechanism to compensate victims.

The meeting was extended by a day to allow more time to study the report.

On October 5, an independent commission published findings that detailed around 3,000 predators among the clergy who sexually abused 216,000 minors from 1950 to 2020, a “massive phenomenon” that had been covered up for decades by a “veil of silence”.

The nearly 2,500-page report found that the “vast majority” of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a variety of social backgrounds.

Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF) which co-requested the report, expressed his “shame and horror” at the findings, while Pope Francis said he felt “great sorrow”.

Jean-Luc Souveton, a priest who was sexually abused, said he would attend both a plenary session and a special session dedicated to the abuses, hoping to make the bishops understand why more victims had not turned up.

“I don’t represent those who are staying away, but I want to make their presence felt, if only to say why they didn’t come,” he told AFP.

In last month’s report, the independent commission recommended that the church accept civil and social responsibility for the abuses, separately from the individual responsibility of the abusers.

It also said that financial compensation should be calculated for each individual case according to the severity of abuses suffered, instead of making flat rate payments.

The money should be taken from the personal assets of the attackers or from the church, it said, recommending against any call for donations from the Catholic faithful.

Several of the topics under discussion will be put to a vote at the end of the conference.