French Church ignores reforms, says abuse report author

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

November 3, 2023

By Tom Heneghan

The Sauvé report “proposed structural changes in Church governance” which have not been implemented.

Jean-Marc Sauvé, whose commission estimated 330,000 sexual abuse cases in the French Church – two-thirds by priests – since 1950, said little had been done to prevent further abuse since its report came out two years ago.  

The bishops accepted the report and began compensating victims, he told Le Parisien, but have not implemented the reforms it suggested.

“Maybe the Church considers the work of the Ciase [abuse commission] was both the diagnosis and the remedy,” he said. But the report also “proposed structural changes in Church governance” such as including lay people, especially women, much more in ecclesial decision-making.

Among its reform ideas, it proposed ordaining women as deacons and older married men – the so-called viri probati – as priests.

Sauvé said the bishops’ plenary in Lourdes last spring was the occasion to consider these reforms, but the meeting passed the controversial items to the dioceses for further study.

“Sometimes they say it’s the responsibility of each bishop. On certain subjects, they say they cannot judge because that’s Rome’s job,” he said.

One such problem is deciding whether an abuse case violates the sixth commandment – breaking the priest’s vow of chastity – or the fifth commandment “thou shalt not kill”.

“For the Ciase, the rape of a minor is in fact a work of death,” he said.

Sauvé’s interview did not mention some progress the French Church has made with its reform proposals.

For example, about three-quarters of active bishops have attended special Vatican sessions on recognising and reporting sexual abuse of minors – apparently the first time so many of a country’s hierarchy have done so.

Sauvé, a retired senior civil servant and practising Catholic, said the bishops were missing opportunities for action. 

“One could imagine that the bishops – who individually agree with this – draw up a collective request to Rome because they cannot decide. In fact, that has not happened,” he said.

Sauvé argued that his report estimated the full extent of abuse in the French Church because many victims did not speak up. “That obviously does not mean that there was no abuse,” he said.