70 Years of Abuse: Sex Scandal Rocks The Catholic Church in France

Published October 9th, 2021 - 12:52 GMT
Sexual abuse of kids
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The latest clergy sex scandal in France is mind-boggling. This is not what the Catholic Church needs right now, but it seems and on a world scale, it is dogged by sexual abuse cases that seem to be following the ecclesiastical order everywhere one looks.

This time however, the sheer enormity of the scandal is making priests and bishops in France and subsequently the Vatican and Pope Francis cover their head in shame and plead forgiveness from the victims and from God. It is the shocking nature and scale of the abuse to young kids that has been unveiled with deafening statistics speaking louder than words.

The French Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in Church (CIASE) came up with devastating results when it documented that 2016,000 people were sexually abused by French clergymen between 1950 and 2020. This was indeed the first shock and heartache that quickly rippled in French society, Europe and internationally.

The 22-member commission that was set up in 2018 and included sociologists, magistrates, law professors and theologians as well as those of different religions showed even more shocking results in a detailed 2500-page report for everyone to see. After they looked at church, court, press and police files they concluded that the actual number of sexual abuse goes up to 300,000 over the said period committed by lay preachers and those connected to the church including teachers, scout leaders, and camp counselors.

Next is the number of abusers. The report said these stood between 2,900 and 3,200 out of a total of 115,000 priests since 1950. The commission's head Jean-Marc Sauvé says the true figure of abusers could be much higher and that the commission only provided “a minimal estimate.” These were men of the cloth that nobody thinks would indulge in despicable acts one revealed.

Most of those that were abused were boys between the ages of 10 and 13. It was argued priests took advantage of their young age. But there were also girls who were abused as well in this period. Many wouldn’t dare speak of these episodes but the commission highlighted the case of the two sisters, Martine and Mireille, who are now in the early 70s.

They were assaulted by a priest in their high school years. But the girls never spoke of the episodes, nor told their parents about the priest until now, and after their parents died. Even now, they continue to refuse to give the surname of the priest out of fear their relatives may know of their terrible secret.

The commission is today being praised including by the bishops and even the Pope himself for breaking the “wall of silence” and the “shrouded secrecy” that existed in the church about such happenings. The Pope back in 2019 when the problem has gotten so bad in Catholic churches around the world, told his clergymen and nuns to speak up and report when they saw sex abuse and/or any other acts of deviancy.

However, with this damning report the door towards these vile acts may open even quicker. Sauvé was particularly scathing as he spoke of ‘the bunch of negligence”, “deficiency” and “an institutional cover up” as he and his team researched and compiled the report. He added that up till the early 21st century the Catholic Church in France had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference” to the victims, who were helpless when the assaults too place, and were too ashamed and unable to report it when they grew older.

What is there to be said on a personal level with these things best hidden under the table. But the findings of the commission, as well as other reporting and court hearings means “deviant” priests can no longer stay behind the curtain or the veil of the alter for the prosecution will go after them soon or later.

While the report opens open new room for positive action, there is continuing bitterness about the French clergy. Francois Devaux who set up an association, La Parole Liberee (Liberated World) to help the victims of those sex crimes says what they went through, including himself was “abominable” and a “betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale” and a “betrayal of children”

The report comes shortly after the trial of Bernard Peynat, a well-known pedophile who admitted to abusing 75 boys including Deveau, over the years. He was sentenced to a five-year prison term but what does this really mean to the victims. How can they be compensated for their lost childhood? Does mean anything to them? And shouldn’t a stiffer sentence be imposed.

Another abused victim Olivier Savignac who also set up another organization by the name of Parler et Revivre (Speak Out and Live Again) says he was abused when he was 13 years-old by the director of a holiday camp in the south of France. He speaks with disgust about the episodes that exists within his body as “cyst” and has had an indelible effect on his psyche ever since.

What is needed is to get to the root causes of a systematic and pernicious problem and try to solve the cystic recurrence that rocked the Catholic Church, probably more saw than any other Christian denomination. The question of celibacy should be questioned although most of these sexually abused were boys.

The CIASE commission came up with 45 recommendations to guard against this behavior including training of priests, revising the law governing the Catholic Church (Canon Law), do a checkup background on persons who maybe in direct contact with children and compensate the victims.

It’s well recognized that victims who had been subject to sex abuse when they were young are like to have physical and emotional problems in their later years. Sauvé put it this way:  "About 60% of men and women who were sexually abused encounter major problems in their sentimental or sexual life." These means they suffer tremendously.

It is ruining society from its different corners. How do you deal with it? Transparency is definitely one thing, another is a change in perspective and outlook to carve the cancer out!


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