French bishops recognise church 'responsibility' for child abuse

·2-min read
French bishops acknowledged that the church allowed abuses to become 'systemic' (AFP/Valentine CHAPUIS)

French bishops said on Friday they accepted that the Catholic church bore an "institutional responsibility" in the many thousands of child abuse cases documented in a shock report, an admission many abuse victims had been pushing for.

The Bishops Conference at its annual meeting also recognised that the church was guilty of allowing the abuses to become "systemic", conference president Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said, a month after the report detailed the abuse of 216,000 minors over seven decades.

"This responsibility implies a duty to provide justice and reparation," the archbishop said following a vote by the bishops.

On October 5, an independent commission examining abuses between 1950 and 2020, called them a "massive phenomenon" that had been 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 a variety of social backgrounds.

De Moulins-Beaufort at the time expressed his "shame and horror" at the findings, while Pope Francis said he felt "great sorrow".

In March, the bishops had already announced that the church stood ready to "accept its responsibility by asking forgiveness for these crimes and these shortcomings".

But on Friday de Moulins-Beaufort said the church was now doing so "in a stronger, clearer and more categorical manner".

Although their annual meeting was not entirely dedicated to the response to the report, the 120 bishops from across France have devoted much of their ongoing week-long meeting to "the fight against violence and sexual aggression directed at minors".

Victims of abuse, and the authors of the report, had called on the bishops to admit that, beyond the guilt of individual attackers, the church itself had been at fault as an institution.

Abuse victims had been invited to join the meeting, but many declined, denouncing the decision to make the sexual abuse scandal just one of several topics -- rather than the sole issue on the agenda.

The bishops will spend the remainder of the conference, which ends Monday, examining the other proposals in the report "on this jointly accepted basis".

The commission notably recommended that the church accept civil and social responsibility for the abuses, separately from the individual responsibility of the abusers.

It also said that financial compensation should be calculated for each individual case according to the severity of abuses suffered, instead of making flat rate payments.

The money should be taken from the personal assets of the attackers or from the church, it said, recommending against any call for donations from the Catholic faithful.

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