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Report Details Appalling Extent of French Catholic Church’s Child Sex Abuse

Thousands of pedophiles and child sex offenders have operated within the Catholic Church in France since 1950, according to a new investigation into abuses. Jean-Marc Sauvé, the head of the investigating panel, said that the group found evidence of 2,900 to 3,200 abusers out of a total of 115,000 priests and clerics. That is likely a conservative estimate, Sauvé said.

Using statistical analysis, the report estimates that from 1950 to 2020 priests, monks, nuns, or deacons sexually abused or assaulted 216,000 children. This number rises to 330,000 victims when all people associated with the church, such as church staff, organizers of scouts or other Catholic youth movements, and laypersons providing catechism lessons, are taken into account.

According to the English summary of the report, the Catholic Church of France initiated the creation of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse to shed light on sexual violence and abuses since 1950, assess how the church handled allegations and cases, and make recommendations for how to proceed in light of its findings.

In addition to the English summary, the full report is available in French, as is a collection of testimony from witnesses. The commission’s website says an English translation of the full report will be available by the end of the year.

The commission made a total of 6,471 contacts in response to its appeal for testimonials and conducted in-depth interviews of 174 victims. In addition, a survey of the general population returned 28,010 responses. The commission conducted exhaustive research in other areas, including reviewing speeches and interviewing clergy and others affiliated with the church as well as media and legal proceedings research.

The report covers 70 years, and an analysis by BBC Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield noted that half of the cases occurred prior to 1970. However, Sauvé told Le Monde that the panel had delivered evidence to prosecutors about 22 cases where criminal action could still be pursued, and the panel informed bishops and other senior church officials about allegations against people who were still alive.

“Faced with this scourge, for a very long time the Catholic Church’s immediate reaction was to protect itself as an institution and it has shown complete, even cruel, indifference to those having suffered abuse,” the report summary said. “Since 2000 and, even more since 2016, the Church has taken important steps to prevent sexual violence and to deal with cases effectively, yet these measures have often been very late coming and unequally applied once in place.”

Under new rules changed by Pope Francis earlier this year, sex abuse, grooming minors, possessing child pornography, and covering up abuse are all now offenses under Canon Law. The changes took 11 years to develop, and they mark the largest overhaul of the Vatican’s criminal code in nearly 40 years.

The commission made 45 recommendations to the church as a result of its study. The recommendations include further changes to Canon Law, as well as training for priests, nuns, monks, and other church leaders and financial remuneration.

The New York Times article on the commission’s announcement included links to its previous articles documenting church abuses in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Poland, the United States, and other countries.

In addition, see the Security Management article from November, “How to Safeguard Children in Houses of Worship.” In the article, Paula Ratliff described the specialized circumstances of these situations: “While the explanation for their behavior may differ, many pedophiles do share similar characteristics. These individuals usually have a great deal of patience, willing to wait extended periods of time for the right victims—and the opportune moment to interact with them. This is known as the grooming process, which may take several years while building trust in a faith-based community.”

She also discussed security’s unique role: “As we work diligently to secure our facilities from outside forces, we must also secure our facilities from the people who are already inside. Pedophiles are among us and await the opportunity to strike. Security professionals can detect and deter them from harming victims.”