Pope Francis expressed his shame on Wednesday after the publication of a detailed and devastating report on the sexual abuse of children within the French Church for decades.
“I wish to express to the victims my sadness and my pain for the traumas suffered and also my shame, our shame, for the inability of the Church for a long time to put them at the center of their concerns,” said Francis during the general audience of this Wednesday.
The high pontiff He urged French Catholics to “assume their responsibilities so that the Church is a safe home for all.”
A French report released Tuesday found that approximately 216,000 children were victims of sexual abuse within the French Catholic Church over the past 70 years , in France’s first major acknowledgment of the devastating phenomenon.
The chairman of the commission that issued the report, Jean-Marc Sauvé, said the estimate, based on scientific research, includes abuses by priests and other clergy, as well as non-religious people involved in the church. He said that around 80% are male victims.
“The consequences are very serious,” Sauvé said. “Approximately 60% of men and women who were sexually abused face significant problems in their love or sexual life.”
The 2,500-page document produced by an independent commission comes as the Catholic Church in France, as in other countries, seeks to confront shameful secrets that have long been covered up.
The report says that some 3,000 child abusers , two-thirds of them priests , worked in the church during that period. Sauvé said the total death toll includes some 216,000 people mistreated by priests and other clerics.
Olivier Savignac, director of the victims association “Parler et Revivre” (Talk and Live Again), which contributed to the investigation, told The Associated Press that the high ratio of victims to abuser is particularly “terrifying for French society, for the Catholic Church ”.
The commission worked for two and a half years , listening to victims and witnesses and studying church, court, police and press archives beginning in the 1950s. A hotline launched at the beginning of the investigation received 6,500 calls from alleged victims or persons who said they knew a victim.
Sauvé denounced the church’s attitude until the early 2000s as “a deep and cruel disregard for the victims.” “They were not believed or listened to” and, on occasions, it was suspected that they were “partly responsible” for what happened, he deplored.
Sauvé said 22 alleged crimes that can still be prosecuted have been referred to prosecutors. More than 40 cases that are too old to be prosecuted but involve suspected perpetrators who are still alive have been referred to church officials.
The commission issued 45 recommendations on how to prevent abuse. These included training priests and other clergy, reviewing canon law, the legal code the Vatican uses to govern the church, and promoting policies to recognize and compensate victims, Sauvé said.