French bishops admit Church responsibility for sexual abuse of minors – 11/06/2021 – World

French bishops recognized this Friday (5) the institutional responsibility of the Catholic Church and the systemic dimension of sexual abuse committed against minors. A month ago, an independent commission report confirmed that church members have abused more than 216,000 children and teenagers over the past 70 years.

In a public statement at the annual meeting of religious in Lourdes, a city known for being the scene of the Catholic pilgrimage, the president of the French Episcopal Conference, Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, said that responsibility “implies a duty of justice and reparation”. The recognition by the institution was one of more than 40 recommendations made in a report on the subject.

The 2,000-page document, produced by an independent commission, showed that the French Catholic Church sheltered between 2,900 and 3,200 pedophiles, in a universe of 115,000 religious, from 1950 to 2020. In the period, more than 200,000 minors, the mostly boys aged between 10 and 13 years were sexually abused.

This Saturday (6), bishops, priests, members of religious orders and the faithful gathered at a sanctuary in Lourdes for a prayer of penance in honor of the victims. “We want to record a visual testimony that will recall so much violence, drama and aggression,” said Hugues de Woillemont, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference.

A painting of a crying boy was placed at the site as a memorial to the victims. The work was produced by one of the victims, who was present. During the ceremony, another person who was abused by a member of the French Church as a child read a text about the violence suffered. More than 120 bishops and dozens of faithful participated in a prayer, some of them kneeling.

Out there

In Lourdes, according to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared in 1858 to a 14-year-old girl. The site is often visited by thousands of pilgrims every year, something that was interrupted during the coronavirus pandemic.

The French investigation followed in the footsteps of the Catholic Church in countries such as Australia, Ireland, the United States and Germany, where measures were also taken to investigate the scope of sexual abuse committed in recent decades.

Olivier Savignac, president of the victims group Parler et Revivre (Speak and Relive) told the AFP news agency that the announcement of the bishops is a “very important first step” and that he especially awaits the decisions that will be taken after acknowledging responsibility.

While the acknowledgment was welcomed, the report’s disclosures on sexual abuse exposed differences between the Church and the French government. One of the sensitive points lies in the secrecy of the confessions made in the institution.

Bishop Moulins-Beaufort, shortly after the document was released, apologized to the victims, but amended, in an interview with local TV, that “the secrecy of the confession is imposed and is stronger than the laws”. In practice, a priest who hears the confession of a serious crime by a believer in the confessional cannot inform the police, since secrecy is absolute under canon law, he explained.

The government’s response came shortly thereafter. Gabriel Attal, spokesman for Emmanuel Macron’s government, said “nothing is stronger than laws”. Although Paris considers the confession to be professional secrecy, it calculates that there are exceptions: the secrecy would not apply, for example, to confidences about aggressions against children under 15 years of age.

China, land in the middle

Among the recommendations made by the independent commission that investigated the abuses is that the Church make it clear that the confession does not cover up this type of crime and that this should be reported to the police authorities.

Moulins-Beaufort insisted that secrecy brings confidence to both victims and perpetrators. “[As vítimas] would have confidence [para confessar] if they thought that [o que for dito] will not remain confidential? We are not going to rob them of this possibility,” said the president of the French Episcopal Conference.

The commission on investigation into sexual abuse was established by Catholic bishops in late 2018 and began work in early 2019, with the goal of shedding light on cases of sexual abuse and pedophilia and trying to restore public confidence in the church in a moment decrease of Catholic congregations in the country.​

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