The Catholic Church in France has been accused of sexually abusing 330,000 minors over the course of 70 years.
Since 1950, about 330,000 children have been sexually assaulted by priests, church workers, and volunteers in the French Catholic Church, according to an inquiry.
The revelation is included in a lengthy report released on Tuesday, the latest in a string of abuse investigations that have rocked the Catholic Church in the United States and elsewhere in recent years.
According to the French study, the number of casualties is an order of magnitude more than earlier estimates in France and other countries. Only clergy and members of religious orders are included in the study, which puts the total number of casualties at 216,000.
According to the study, approximately 3,000 priests and male members of religious organizations have sexually assaulted children since 1950, based on archival research and a request for testimonies.
The figures are “more than alarming.” “They’re overwhelming,” said Jean-Marc Sauvé, the investigation’s lead jurist. “They want draconian measures.”
Mr. Sauvé emphasized that the estimated number of victims had a margin of error of 50,000, based on a broad survey and interactions with thousands of victims.
The French inspectors demanded that church officials undertake changes, including improved internal protections, oversight, and priest training. The study also suggests that clerical theology be rethought, claiming that an overabundance of respect to priests made it easier for them to abuse children.
The French Bishops Conference and the National Conference of Religious Orders requested Mr. Sauvé to form the commission that performed the inquiry in 2018. Experts in medical, law, and religion were among the commission’s other members.
“We are embarrassed and appalled in the face of so many shattered and ruined lives,” the conferences stated in a joint statement. “We recognize that we still have a long way to go before we can expect to earn the victims’ forgiveness.”
On Tuesday, the Vatican did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
In an interview, François Devaux, co-founder of a French abuse victims’ organization, stated, “We are witnessing the magnitude of the atrocities they have perpetrated.” He referred to the report as “a watershed moment in our history.”
Investigators found that sexual abuse of children in the church was less frequent than among family and friends, but more common than in schools, camps, and sports, according to the study released Tuesday.
Investigators discovered that 60 percent of victims still had severe or very strong disturbance in their emotional and sex lives, according to Mr. Sauvé.
“We have to let go of the notion that the issue is solved. Mr. Sauvé said, “It continues.”
Since the issue emerged in 2002 with allegations of long-standing abuse and cover-up in Boston, a number of local and national investigations into clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church have been launched. Since then, investigations conducted by private organizations or government agencies have shown the scope of the church’s problem in the United States, Ireland, Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
In contrast to those mentioned by investigators in other countries, notably the United States and Germany, Mr. Sauvé expressed confidence in the large number of victims in the French study.
A 2004 study commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops revealed that during the preceding half-century, more than 10,000 individuals had accused approximately 4% of Catholic clergy in the United States of sexual abuse.
National meetings of Catholic bishops, clergy, and laypeople have been convened in Australia and Germany to discuss ideas for church reform.
Pope Francis has changed the legislation in the Catholic Church to make it easier to examine bishops who abuse or cover up the abuse of others.
Getty Images/Vincenzo Pinto/Agence France-Presse
Following a 2018 study that showed priests in Germany had molested at least 3,677 children over seven decades, a synod in Germany is contemplating allowing women to be ordained and ending priestly celibacy. Despite a Vatican prohibition on the practice, the synod decided last week to endorse blessings for same-sex couples.
The Catholic Church isn’t the only religious institution that has been scrutinized. From the 1940s through 2018, almost 400 clergy and other Church of England workers were convicted of sex abuse, according to a government-sponsored study released in 2020.
The Vatican has also conducted its own investigation, resulting in a 2020 report on the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was expelled from the priesthood in 2019 after a Vatican court found him guilty of sexual abuse of children and sexual misconduct with adults.
Three consecutive pontiffs, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, neglected to punish Mr. McCarrick for years, according to the Vatican study. Mr. McCarrick, 91, is now on trial in Massachusetts for sexual assault. He has denied any involvement.
Mr. McCarrick’s counsel did not respond to a request for comment.
Pope Francis changed church law after defrocking Mr. McCarrick to make it simpler to probe bishops who abuse or cover up abuse by others.
The high-profile case of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, a former archbishop of Lyon, who was convicted of failing to disclose child sex abuse in 2019 but had his sentence overturned the following year, prompted Tuesday’s study on clergy sex abuse in France.
Cardinal Barbarin was accused of failing to disclose an allegation made by a victim of Bernard Preynat, a former priest who, according to his own admission, sexually abused several dozen adolescents in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s.
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