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330,000 children abused in churches

The report, a result of extensive research, was released on Tuesday, marking France’s first major reckoning with the issue involving children abused in churches.

The head of France’s Catholic bishops conference has asked for forgiveness from the estimated 330,000 victims of children abused in churches revealed in a groundbreaking report.

The President of the Conference of Bishops of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said Tuesday that the report’s conclusions and the number of victims had left him “appalled.”

“Their voices are trembling us, and their numbers are afflicting us,” he said.

“I wish to ask for pardon on that day, pardon to each of you,” he told the victims.

The report’s commission urged victims to be compensated and the church to take strong action against children abused in churches.

In France’s first major reckoning with the devastating phenomenon, a major French report released Tuesday found that an estimated 330,000 children abused sexually in churches within France’s Catholic Church over the past 70 years.

According to Jean-Marc Sauvé, president of the commission that issued the report, the estimate is based on scientific research and includes abuses committed by priests and other clerics as well as non-religious people involved in the church.

He claims that roughly 80% of the victims are men who were abused in churches.The 330,000 children abused in churches is a high number which measures have to be put in place to avoiding adding up.

“The consequences are severe,” Sauvé stated. “Approximately 60% of men and women who have been sexually abused experience significant problems in their sentimental or sexual lives.”

The 2,500-page report, prepared by an independent commission, comes as the Catholic Church in France, like in other countries, seeks to confront shameful secrets that have long been hidden.

According to the report, an estimated 3,000 child abusers worked in the church during that time period, with two-thirds of them being priests.

According to Sauvé, the total number of victims includes an estimated 216,000 people abused by priests and other clerics.

The high ratio of victims per abuser is particularly “terrifying for French society, for the Catholic Church,” according to Olivier Savignac, head of victims association “Parler et Revivre” (Speak Out and Live Again), who contributed to the investigation.

The commission worked for two and a half years, interviewing victims and witnesses and researching church, court, police, and press archives dating back to the 1950s.This helped them uncover this massive number of children abused in churches.

330,000 children have been abused in churches
File: Kiran Ridley/Getty

A hotline set up at the start of the investigation received 6,500 calls from alleged victims or people claiming to know a victim.

Until the early 2000s, Sauvé described the church’s attitude toward victims as “a deep, cruel indifference toward victims.” He bemoaned the fact that they were “not believed or heard,” and that they were sometimes suspected of being “in part responsible” for what happened.

Sauvé stated that prosecutors have been notified of 22 alleged crimes that can still be pursued. More than 40 cases involving alleged perpetrators who are still alive but are too old to be prosecuted have been forwarded to church officials.

The commission made 45 recommendations for preventing abuse. Sauvé stated that these included training priests and other clerics, revising Canon Law, the legal code used by the Vatican to govern the church and fostering policies to recognize and compensate victims.

The report comes after the French Catholic Church was rocked by a scandal involving now-defrocked priest Bernard Preynat.

Preynat was convicted of sexually abusing minors last year and sentenced to five years in prison. He admitted to abusing more than 75 boys over the course of several decades.

Francois Devaux, head of the victims group La Parole Libérée (“The Liberated Word”), one of Preynat’s victims, told The Associated Press that “with this report, the French church is going to the root of this systemic problem for the first time.” The errant institution must be reformated.”

He stated that the number of victims abused in churches identified in the report is “minimum.”

“Some victims did not dare to speak out or trust the commission,” he said, expressing concern that the French church has still “not understood” and has sought to minimize its responsibilities.

According to Devaux, the church must not only acknowledge events but also compensate victims. “It is absolutely necessary that the church redress the harm caused by all of these crimes, and (financial) compensation is the first step.”

The Preynat case resulted in the resignation last year of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the former archbishop of Lyon, who has been accused of failing to report the abuses to civil authorities when he learned about them in the 2010s.

Earlier this year, France’s highest court ruled that Barbarin did not cover up the case.

In a message to parishioners read at Sunday Masses across France, French archbishops said the report’s release is “a test of truth and a difficult and serious moment.”

“We will receive and study these conclusions in order to adjust our actions,” said the message. “We are all concerned about the fight against pedophilia… Our prayers and support will continue to be directed toward all those who have been abused within the church.”

Pope Francis issued a groundbreaking new church law in May 2019 requiring all Catholic priests and nuns worldwide to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by superiors to church authorities.

In June, Francis rejected an offer to resign as archbishop of Munich and Freising from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of Germany’s most prominent clerics and a close papal adviser, over the church’s handling of abuse cases.

However, he stated that a reform process was required, and that every bishop must accept responsibility for the crisis’s “catastrophe.”

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