The Oklahoman

French report exposes church abuse

330,000 children victims in sexual misconduct

- Sylvie Corbet

PARIS – Victims of abuse within France’s Catholic Church welcomed a historic turning point Tuesday after a new report estimated that 330,000 children in France were sexually abused over the past 70 years, providing the country’s first accounting of the worldwide phenomenon.

The figure includes abuses committed by some 3,000 priests and an unknown number of other people involved in the church – wrongdoing that Catholic authoritie­s covered up over decades in a “systemic manner,” according to the president of the commission that issued the report, Jean-Marc Sauvé.

The 2,500-page document was issued as the Catholic Church in France, like in other countries, seeks to face up to shameful secrets that were long covered up. Victims welcomed the report as long overdue and the head of the French bishops’ conference asked for forgivenes­s from them.

The report said the tally of 330,000 victims includes an estimated 216,000 people abused by priests and other clerics, and the rest by church figures such as scout leaders or camp counselors.

The estimates are based on a broader research by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research into sexual abuse of children in the country.

The study’s authors estimate 80% of the church’s victims were boys, while the broader study of sexual abuse found that 75% of the overall victims were girls. The independen­t commission urged the church to take strong action, denouncing its “faults” and “silence.” It also called on the Catholic Church to help compensate the victims, notably in cases that are too old to prosecute via French courts.

“We consider the church has a debt towards victims,” Sauvé said.

Francois Devaux, head of the victims’ group La Parole Libérée (The Liberated Word), said it was “a turning point in our history.” He denounced the coverups that permitted “mass crimes for decades.”

“But even worse, there was a betrayal: betrayal of trust, betrayal of morality, betrayal of children, betrayal of innocence,” he added.

Martine, 73, and Mireille, 71, were sexually assaulted by a priest when they were teenage girls in high school. They both declined to give their last name due to privacy reasons, in part because some family members were not aware of the abuses.

“It brings on such terrible thoughts,” Martine said. “For me, personally, I had to wait for my parents to die” because otherwise she said it was “not possible” to speak out.

“I think that each victim experience­d it as if they were the only one (victim), and that’s part of this phenomenon involving control and secrecy,” Mireille said. “We are in a condition of submission ... in a mental captivity. So, we follow this person who suddenly takes power over us ... We are caught in a spider web.”

A recognitio­n of the fault is essential, she said, and financial compensati­on is “really symbolic ... it won’t fix things but it means it will also cost them something.”

 ?? Paris. THOMAS COEX/POOL VIA AP ?? Francois Devaux attends the publishing of a report into sexual abuse by church officials Tuesday in
Paris. THOMAS COEX/POOL VIA AP Francois Devaux attends the publishing of a report into sexual abuse by church officials Tuesday in

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