La Croix International [France]
November 11, 2022
By Isabelle de Gaulmyn
There’s a doubly twisted system at the highest level of the hierarchy, where the perverse behavior of certain bishops is met by the impotence of peers who have conflicting loyalties
Desolation? Sadness? No, anger – tremendous anger! That’s been the reaction of many Catholics after Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort revealed this past week that no fewer than eleven French bishops currently stand accused of sexual abuse by the civil or ecclesiastical authorities.
Among them is Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the retired archbishop of Bordeaux, who also served six years as president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) – that is to say, someone who was nothing less than the top leader of the Church.
What else can there be but anger after such a revelation? How can one still believe that the Church will pull through, that it has the means to reform itself, when it is so deeply damaged? For the bishops are “the head” of the Church. They are responsible for guaranteeing the unity, teaching and discipline of the People of God!
But what do we see on the part of this “elite”, a priori chosen carefully by the pope and his aides? Perversion for some; serious, profound and criminal. An incomprehensible laxity for others, which leads to an immense helplessness.
The facts are extremely serious. But perhaps the bishops can’t see it when it’s one of their own. Their esprit de corps has prevailed for too long. Cardinal Ricard’s victim was a 14-year- old girl. And the only reason one of his “brother bishops” found to excuse him was to say that “he was in love”. Seriously. “In love” with an adolescent girl who was 30 years younger than he was at the time!
Another bishop who has been denounced by several families for his “inappropriate attitude” towards young people, Bishop Hervé Gaschignard, continues to celebrate Mass, officiate at weddings, teach, and even wear the mitre during liturgies. And none of his “brother bishops” find anything wrong with this.
A twisted system
What we are discovering today – with horror – is a twisted system. And it’s at the highest level of the Church’s hierarchy. First of all, it’s twisted for the perpetrators. Because men who have studied theology and law for many years have been shown to be capable of the worst.
And then they accepted the responsibility of being named a bishop with no hesitation.
Without doubt, and this is perhaps the most serious thing, they are so torn within themselves that they simply refuse to acknowledge their own dark side. What is the point of being so moral… For example, Bishop Michel Santier, was ordered to a life of prayer and penance in a religious convent. Unable to recognize his faults, he confided to these sisters that he was the victim of a cabal.
Secondly, the system is twisted because their peers — the other bishops — are caught in insurmountable contradictions and a conflict of loyalties that render them totally powerless.
On the one hand, Rome continues to ask them to keep quiet when a bishop is accused. And they know very well that in the Roman Curia, the head of the Dicastery of Bishops is none other than Cardinal Marc Ouellet, himself accused of sexual assault in Canada. On the other hand, they feel solidarity with their guilty “brother bishops” who are incapable of measuring the extent of the crimes they’ve committed and are thus unable to make a true judgment.
A tragedy that is eating away at Catholicism
Today, this double tragedy is eating away at Catholicism. Who can continue to “believe in the Church”, as we repeat in the Creed each Sunday? The house seems to be damaged to its very foundations. For this reason – please, dear bishops! – we must agree to share power; to review the systems of governance, taking inspiration from what is done elsewhere in the world.
Let go of these abuse cases that come your way and trust others to deal with them, because we know that nothing is worse than being judged by your peers. Basically, we are not asking you to give up your power. On the contrary, we’re asking you to exercise it. And quickly.
Because you have allowed yourselves to be trapped in powerlessness. And it’s dragging us all down in the worst possible way.
Isabelle de Gaulmyn is a senior editor at La Croix and a former Vatican correspondent.