Sexual abuse of minors, the forgotten continent

La Croix International [France]

October 8, 2022

By Isabelle de Gaulmyn

One year after the devastating report on abuse within the Catholic Church in France, it’s surprising that there have been no similar investigations into other sectors of society

It is not surprising that the protest against the report on sexual abuse in the Church (CIASE), published a year ago, focused on the figures, particularly on the 330,000 victims of sexual abuse since 1950 (216,000 of whom were abused by a priest).

Not that these figures are wrong. As has been amply demonstrated since then, they were obtained with all the scientific rigor that presides over this kind of investigation. But it’s because it is “too much”, enormous, inconceivable.

The magnitude of this criminal phenomenon and its systemic dimension is like certain mass murders. They are too overwhelming to be believed.

All the more so because it happened right next door to us, in parishes, scout groups and schools that we ourselves attended. And that, as far as children are concerned, it is the abomination of the abomination…

Our first reflex is to be dumbfounded. The “it is not possible” of the one who refuses to see. We find it difficult to accept these figures in their brutality, because deep down they challenge us in our assurances.

The psychoanalyst Marie Balmary, today a member of one of the commissions in charge of evaluating the reparations, tells how this stupefaction affects each of us.

One can look back to Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, who at first listened to and believed the victims of incest. But he very quickly gave up.

He wrote that he was surprised to find that in each case, “the father had to be accused of perversion, mine not excluded… whereas such a generalization of acts committed against children hardly seemed believable”.

There again, it is indeed the “generalization of the acts committed”, including by his own father, which made the doctor of Vienna tremble…

Is this time of amazement, of blindness, behind us? No. Everything is happening as if, after a time of stupor, we have carefully closed our eyes again.

On the side of the Church, and in spite of all the criticism that is emerging, the process has begun. Slowly, perhaps too slowly, even if this is partly understandable, given the number of files to be dealt with.

And the rest?

The CIASE report is rich in that it provides the beginnings of a numerical analysis for other institutions outside the Church. And the report is overwhelming: 5.5 million French people have been victims of sexual abuse since 1950, in their childhood…

A commission similar to CIASE has been set up to look into incest. But that’s it.

The other religions (just as concerned in proportion to their weight in society), and above all the public schools, the sports and music clubs, the summer camps… None of them have taken these appalling figures seriously.

For example, the national education system (nearly 200,000 presumed victims, according to the CIASE report) has never done the global and thorough work of CIASE, being satisfied with case-by-case management, in a complicit indifference of the whole State apparatus.

As for the world of sports, it is overwhelming. When such a case of abuse (figure skating, swimming) is reported in the media, the ministers in office feel sorry for themselves.

But when will there be an in-depth study of an environment that focuses so much attention on the human body and its excellence with all the abut that this can cause to children?

The continent of sexual abuse of minors is immense. It does not only concern the Catholic Church. And it frightens each and every one of us.

But, as the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote in lines that are that at the beginning of the CIASE report, “We are all responsible for everything and everyone and to everyone, but I am more responsible than all the others”.

Isabelle de Gaulmyn is a senior editor at La Croix and a former Vatican correspondent.