French bishops conference focus on “massive phenomenon” of child abuse

French bishops child abuse

The French Catholic bishops conference began on Tuesday, with half the seven-day meeting to focus on damning child abuse revelations.

The 120 bishops are meeting to pour over a shock report released last month that detailed child abuse of more than 200,000 minors spanning 70 years.

The findings of the Sauvé report on sexual abuse in the Church horrified the nation after revealing around 3,000 clergy sexually abused 216,000 minors from 1950 to 2020.

The commission stated the abuse was a “massive phenomenon” covered up for decades by a “veil of silence”.

The nearly 2,500-page report found that the “vast majority” of victims were pre-adolescent boys from various social backgrounds.

The bishops conference agenda suggests the meeting attendees will “fight against violence and sexual aggression directed at minors”.

The gathering, which started with a period of silence to honour the victims, is taking place in Lourdes, a Catholic holy site and one of the world’s top pilgrimage destinations.

Some victims were invited to join the meeting. However, many declined, denouncing the decision to make the sexual abuse scandal just one of several topics — rather than the sole issue on the agenda.

Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF), who co-requested the report, expressed his “shame and horror” at the findings. At the same time, Pope Francis said he felt “great sorrow”.

Jean-Luc Souveton, a priest who was sexually abused, said he would attend both a plenary session and a special session dedicated to the abuses. He hoped to make the bishops understand why more victims had not turned up.

“I don’t represent those who are staying away. But, I want to make their presence felt if only to say why they didn’t come,” Souveton told AFP.

Many bishops declined to comment when approached by La Croix for comment on the report, but a few did respond.

Bishop Marc Beaumont, head of the Diocese of Moulins, did not hide that he feels as “helpless” as “a mouse in front of a mountain”.

“It is a time of considerable trial, we are stunned,” said Bishop Hubert Herbreteau, who has led the Diocese of Agen in southern France since 2005.

Bishop Jean-Luc Brunin of Le Havre was just as dumbfounded.

“I am stunned by the numbers. It’s really frightening,” said the 70-year-old prelate, who has been a bishop for nearly 22 years.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Archbishop Herbreteau.

“I feel great pain, suffering, and even shame. But, at the same time, I realize that the work has opened, that there is a challenge to be met,” he said.



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