Paris – An independent investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse by French Catholic priests, deacons and other clergymen claimed some 216,000 lives from 1950 to 2020, a “massive phenomenon” that has been covered up for decades. decades by a “veil of silence”.
Landmark report, released Tuesday after two and a half years of investigations, follows widespread outrage over spate of sexual intercoursearound the globe. But as CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay reports, the French investigation involves not only the latest revelations of abuse by Catholic clergy, but possibly the largest number of victims ever identified by reports and investigations. in the whole world.
When lay members of the Church such as teachers in Catholic schools are included, the number of child victims of abuse climbs to 330,000 over the seven-decade period.
The Catholic bishops of France have asked forgiveness from the victims. The Vatican did not immediately comment.
“These figures are more than worrying, they are overwhelming and can in no way go unanswered,” said the chairman of the commission of inquiry, Jean-Marc Sauvé, at a press conference.
“Until the early 2000s, the Catholic Church showed a deep and even cruel indifference towards the victims,” he said.
Bishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) which co-commissioned the report, expressed his “shame and horror” at the conclusions.
“My wish today is to ask forgiveness from each of you,” he said at a press conference.
Sauve denounced the “systemic nature” of efforts to protect the clergy from allegations of sexual abuse and urged the Church to pay reparations even though most cases far exceed the statute of limitations for prosecution.
The nearly 2,500-page report found that the “vast majority” of victims were pre-teen boys from a wide variety of social backgrounds.
“The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment with the highest prevalence of sexual violence,” the report says.
A “deviant system”
Sauve had already told AFP on Sunday that a “minimum estimate” of 2,900 to 3,200 pedophiles had operated in the French Church since 1950. However, only a handful of cases gave rise to disciplinary measures under canon law , not to mention criminal prosecution.
François Devaux, head of an association of victims, condemned a “deviant system” which required a global response under a new “Vatican III” council headed by Pope Francis.
“You have finally given institutional recognition to the victims of all the responsibilities of the Church, which the bishops and the Pope are not yet ready to do,” Devaux told the conference Tuesday.
The casualties estimates were based largely on a representative study carried out by INSERM, the French institute for medical and health research, with a statistical “confidence interval” of 50,000 people more or less.
Sauve and his team of 21 specialists, all unaffiliated with the Church, also interviewed hundreds of people who came to tell their stories.
“If the veil of silence that covered the acts committed has finally been torn … we owe it to the courage of these victims,” he wrote. “Without their testimony, our society would still not be aware of or deny what happened.”
The commission also had access to police records as well as Church archives, citing only two cases of refusal by ecclesiastical institutions to hand over requested documents.