By Brendan Cole
There have been at least 3,000 child sex abuse victims in the Catholic Church in France stretching back decades—and it’s feared there may be many more, according to an investigation.
Last June, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) was set up to look into abuse claims committed by the clergy in France since the 1950s.
A hotline for victims to come forward has so far received more than 5,000 phone calls. The number of estimated victims represents an average of 40 cases per year over seven decades.
The head of the commission, Jean-Marc Sauvé, said that around 1,500 clergy and church officials carried out the abuse. He believes there are many more victims who had not yet come forward.
“I am profoundly convinced that there are many more victims,” he told reporters, adding in reference to the hotline and the commission’s own inquiries: “What we do not know is how to consolidate these two sources of potential cases.”
Around 30 percent of the victims who have come forward are older than 70 and around half are aged between 50 and 70. The commission has extended its call for victims’ testimony until the end of October. Its full report has been delayed due to the coronavirus and is expected around September or October 2021.
“We must remember this suffering, we must account for it. We are confronted with the shock of the suffering of the victims. We can only be touched and transformed by meeting these victims,” Sauvé told the radio station RTL.
The French church has been left reeling from sex abuse scandals. In January, former priest Bernard Preynat admitted abusing around 80 boys aged between seven and 10 over two decades when he was a French scout chaplain. He said that his superiors turned a blind eye to his behavior.
Preynat was jailed for five years for the crimes, which took place between 1971 and 1991. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was convicted of failing to report the actions of Preynat but had this conviction overturned on appeal.
He said he had heard “rumors” about the priest’s behavior in 2010, but knew nothing of the abuse until he spoke to one of the victims in 2014.
France’s Catholic Church announced that it would fund a compensation fund to pay out lump sums to abuse victims. The decision by the French Bishops’ Conference in December 2019 follows similar moves in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.
Last year, the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, made it mandatory for any clergy to report cases of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups.
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