La Croix International [France]
October 28, 2021
By Xavier Le Normand
Catholics in France are angry and are demanding a change in Church governance that will give more authority to the laity, according to a new survey commissioned by “La Croix”
By Xavier Le Normand
Catholics in France have been shaken by the recently released report on sexual abuse in their Church over the past 70 years. The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) – also known as the Sauvé Commission – published its report on October 5.
It revealed that the abuse was “systemic” and estimated that since the 1950s anywhere from 216,000 to 330,000 youngsters have been sexually abused by priests and even some laypeople.
Since the publication of the figures and the painful accounts of abused persons, the number of editorials and appeals throughout France has multiplied.
And as a consequence, the country’s bishops have come under fire from many quarters, a sting that they will feel all next week when they gather at the Marian shrine of Lourdes for the plenary assembly of their national episcopal conference. (CEF).
In this context, La Croix wanted to take the pulse of French Catholics through a survey conducted by IFOP (the French Institute of Public Opinion), one of France’s most credible polling outfits.
The first finding of this survey is that the CIASE report has made a huge impact. Nearly nine out of ten French Catholics have heard of it.
“Undeniably, there has been a very strong reaction to this report among the Catholic population,” confirms Gautier Jardon, head of research at IFOP.
So, CIASE has achieved one of its first goals, which was to raise awareness about sexual abuse.
Faced with the revelations, the survey shows that feelings are unanimous among the believers. Eighty-five percent said they were “angry” and the same number said they were “sad”.
For both reactions, more than half of the respondents chose strong responses, saying they felt it “a lot”.”
Usually, respondents choose the middle answers.
“Here, we see that Catholics are far from being insensitive and have a clear-cut position,” Jardon points out.
A hierarchy that’s not up to the task
More personally, seven out of ten respondents said they felt “shame”.
And barely one in two felt concerned by the problems identified by the Sauvé Report
On the other hand, nearly three out of four say that their faith is not affected by the report’s revelations.
Thoughts about the report itself are also not unanimous.
The survey shows that Catholics are deeply divided. As a whole, four out of ten say they “do not trust the results” of the report.
Similarly, about 30% of believers find that there is “too much talk” about the CIASE report.
This proportion even rises to 40% among practicing Catholics.
Though the faith of Catholics does not appear to have been deeply shaken, it is clear by the survey that there is now a serious crisis of confidence in the Church as an institution.
When asked if the bishops had reacted adequately to the revelations in the abuse report, three quarters of those surveyed answered “No”.
The various measures the bishops have progressively put in place, therefore, still appear to fall far short of the people’s expectations.
Those surveyed were even more severe in their assessment of how much attention the Church authorities have given to victims. Less than two out of ten Catholics believe it has been sufficient.
The less they consider themselves practicing Catholics, the sharper their criticism.
Only 14% of non-practicing Catholics believe sufficient attention has been paid to abuse victims, compared to 39% of those who described themselves as practicing believers.
As a result, two-thirds of Catholics say they do not trust the Church to protect minors. Here again, however, a distinction must be made according to the level of practice.
In comparison to Catholics as a whole, two-thirds of those who regularly attend Sunday Mass are ready to trust the Church.
Plebiscite for change
Through this survey, La Croix also wanted to ask Catholics about the changes they expect from their Church.
The first measure, which is unanimously supported, regardless of the level of religious practice, age or social background is to “ask forgiveness from the victims”.
The majority of those surveyed also considered paying financial compensation to the victims to be important.
“There is massive support for these demands, which show that Catholics are not at all rejecting the conclusions of the CIASE report,” comments IFOP’s Jardon.
Those who took part in the survey also showed dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church’s current way of operating.
Nine believers out of ten backed two specific proposals in this regard: to entrust responsibilities to women and to change the teaching on sexuality.
A better sharing of power is supported by 85% of those polled.
Division on the sanctity of confession
While a majority of people back these two measures, those who are older were more supportive.
In other words, young Catholics are less demanding for reform than are their elders.
How can this be explained?
While it is not possible to give a definitive answer, the survey shows that far fewer young French people say they are Catholic than their elders.
Conversely, young Catholics have a higher rate of practice.
“Few people say they are Catholic, but the young people who do are probably more determined,” says Jardon.
And, perhaps, they are therefore less inclined to want change in their Church, which is under fire from critics.
One proposal for change that divides Catholics is the possible lifting of the secrecy of confession or “seal of the confessional”.
The issue caused much controversy in the days following the release of the Sauvé Report and the survey showed this is also true among believers.
While 69% of them say secrecy should be lifted, that number drops to only 54% among practicing Catholics.
Despite the crisis of confidence, however, the Catholic hierarchy in France can take solace in this new poll.
Regardless of the level of practice, more than eight out of ten Catholics in the country believe that the Church’s work on abuse within its own house can “help shed light” on abuse in the rest of society.
Though Catholics are particularly severe regarding their community and its hierarchy, they welcome the beneficial work which can be put at the service of society as a whole.