French bishops fire communications spokesperson

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Karine Dalle, spokeswoman and undersecretary for the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) has been fired, two and a half months after taking office.

Although the bishops say Dalle’s “trial period has not been confirmed” she says she had “been fired”.

Her dismissal follows various slip-ups in communications after the release of an independent report into sexual abuse in the Church in France between 1950 and 2020.

The news came only a few days after the conclusion of the French bishops’ plenary assembly in Lourdes. This focused on ways to apply the recommendations made by the independent commission in October.

Dalle’s short employment with the Conference began just before the “explosive” report from the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (CIASE) was released.

The spokeswoman had a solid reputation for managing various crisis situations. This, plus her clear-and-straightforward communication style saw her appointed to undertake the delicate mission of managing the French bishops’ press communications when the report was released to the public. A furore was expected.

After accepting the report, which said priests who learn of abuse in Confession must report it to secular authorities, Conference head Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort fumbled badly.

He insisted the seal of the confessional was above the laws of France’s secular republic.

The difficulty with this comment, however, is that while French law has always respected confessional secrecy, more recently radical imams have been insisting sharia trumps civil law. This has forced the secular state to reassert its primacy in legal affairs.

If Muslims have been called to order, Catholics had to be too.

Ideally, Dalle would have anticipated this political minefield and issued a bland statement letting the state avoid a confrontation with its majority faith.

Instead, Moulins-Beaufort trumpeted the supremacy of canon law over French law.

The interior minister became involved.

Afterwards, both sought to calm the waters and agreed the confessional seal would remain inviolable.

Dalle continued the already signed-off battle alone, defending the Church’s position, complaining anti-clericals misunderstood the issue. She mentioned the media. Politicians could not but feel this also meant them.

In a series of tweets that were subsequently deleted, she contextualized the data and figures contained in the report.

She recalled, for example, that the 330,000 victims was only an estimate.

Responding to people who were ascribing these abuse cases to the celibacy of priests, she said over a third were committed by laypeople.

In his closing speech at the plenary, however, Moulins-Beaufort made it clear the Church accepted full responsibility for any abuse.

To date only 17 dioceses have signed protocols with local judicial authorities to report abuse priests learn of.

Since few cases come through Confession, priests can report other cases they think are serious. This is widely seen as a reasonable compromise both sides can live with.

The bishops’ conference has recommended other dioceses adopt this policy.




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