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Pope expresses 'shame' at French abuse scandal

October 6, 2021

Pope Francis spoke of "sadness and pain" over the sexual abuse of children by the French Catholic clergy, which was revealed this week in a devastating report.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis was speaking at his weekly general audienceImage: Stefano Spaziani/picture alliance

Pope Francis on Wednesday said he was saddened that the Catholic Church in France has been unable to protect children from sexual abuse at the hands of clergy. 

His remarks came a day after a French commission released an exhaustive report uncovering 70 years of child sex abuse in the country's Catholic Church. It estimated the number of victims abused by clergy and laypeople connected to the church to be around 330,000.

"I wish to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma they have suffered. And also my shame, our shame, my shame for the inability of the Church for too long to put them at the center of its concerns," the pontiff said at his weekly general audience.

The pope invited Catholics in France to "assume their responsibilities to ensure that the Church is a safe home for all."

He also called on the clergy to continue working to ensure such situations "are not repeated," offering his support to French priests to face up to "this trial that is hard but healthy."

What did the report reveal?

The 2,500-page report was prepared by an independent commission and published Tuesday. 

It shed light on thousands of child sex abuse cases over the past 70 years involving 3,000 abusers and hundreds of thousands of victims. An estimated 216,000 were victims of the French clergy.

Jean-Marc Sauve, the president of the commission that issued the report, told a news conference on Tuesday that the church's attitude toward its victims was "deep, cruel indifference.''

The report states, "The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence."

What has been the reaction?

On Tuesday, the head of the French conference of bishops, Monsignor Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said he was "appalled" at the conclusions of the report and the numbers of victims. 

Francois Devaux, a sex abuse victim and the head of the victims' group "La Parole Liberee" (The Liberated Word), told the AP news agency that the French church still "hasn't understood" or continues to minimize the issue. 

"It is indispensable that the church redresses the harm caused by all these crimes, and compensation is the first step," Devaux said.

In 2019, Pope Francis vowed to address abuse by priests. He ordered Catholic priests and nuns worldwide to report sex abuse by members of the clergy, as well as attempts to cover it up by superiors, to church authorities — but not the police.

The Catholic Church: Power and abuse of power?

fb/wmr (AFP, Reuters)