French Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church rebuts critique

Last October, Jean-Marc Sauvé gave the French Bishops’ Conference the report he and members of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) had compiled.

Then in November, the French Catholic Academy published a 15-page critique of the report.

The Academy has about 70 members.

“The most serious defects of the CIASE report, in addition to a faulty and contradictory methodology and serious deficiencies in the theological, philosophical and legal fields, concern its recommendations,” the Academy claimed.

The Academy’s analysis led to a December 9 meeting between Pope Francis and CIASE being cancelled.

Sauvé has now rebutted the Academy’s charges in a 50-page response.

“The Catholic Academy was not trying to have a debate and contribute to the truth, but rather to engage in a trial against the accused and in a smear campaign,” he said.

“At the end of the careful examination of the analysis … nothing remains of the very serious criticisms …”.

Offering a nuanced assessment of the figures it presented, the CIASE report said an estimated 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, and nuns from 1950 to 2020.

When abuse by other Church workers was included, the report said “the estimated number of child victims rises to 330,000 for the whole of the period”.

We cannot ensure “there is no significant bias affecting these estimates,” the report explained. Furthermore, “we cannot affirm that the estimates produced are far from the true values”.

It said, “as a matter of principle, all statistics derived from a survey are subject to errors … and all reasoning about quality is done ‘on average’ … there is never a total guarantee, because there is always an error due to sampling and non-response and, at most, it can be said that the estimate is ‘(very) probably’ close to reality”.

He said he had called upon expert advisors to confirm the validity of the Independent Commission’s working method and results.

“The chosen method is used by all polling institutes and our researchers took precautions to reduce bias,” he said.

“Our results are comparable to those of probability surveys conducted on very similar subjects over the last ten years.

“The main risk is that of underestimating the number of victims”.

The report identified negligence and institutional failures – these are systemic elements common to any institution that welcomes minors, while some are specific to the Catholic Church.

Sauvé noted the Academy does not accept that the Church has entrusted the subject of pedocriminality in its midst to persons other than clerics.

For the Academy, reparation can be decided only by a court.

This is exactly the opposite of what all the episcopal conferences in the world have decided in terms of reparation for the consequences of abuse.

“The Academy is going against the very clear teachings of the pope himself on priesthood, clericalism, reparation and being self-referential. This is shameful for people who thought they had to denounce us to him.”


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