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French Catholic Church raises over $22 million for sex abuse victims



John Burger - published on 01/26/22

Panel that commissioned last year's report called for Church to pay out of its own funds, but parishioners were free to donate.

The Catholic Church in France has raised $22.6 million (22 million Europs) for a compensation fund for victims of sexual abuse.

Most of the money has come from private donations, according to AFP, the French news agency.

“It’s a first step. The Church has followed through on its commitment,” the president of the Selam fund, Gilles Vermot-Desroches, told AFP after its board met on Monday.

“An initial five million euros will be set aside for compensation claims being studied by an independent panel set up in the wake of the damning abuse report, released in October,” the wire service said.

The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (known by its French acronym CIASE) found extensive sexual abuse in the Church in France over the past seven decades, leading for calls for reform. In a 500-page report, accompanied by some 2,000 pages of supporting documents, it reported its estimation of 330,000 victims, of which an estimated 216,000 were victims abused by priests.

Though this week’s AFP report said that CIASE “found that 216,000 minors had been abused by clergy over the past seven decades, a number that climbed to 330,000 when claims against lay members of the Church are included, such as teachers at Catholic schools, the commission actually identified 2,700 abuse victims between 1950 and 2020 through interviews, and another 4,800 through archival research. 

“From there, it worked with a polling agency and the French Institute of Health and Medical Research to estimate a total number of potential clerical abuse victims between 1950 and 2020, which it placed at 216,000,” the website The Pillar said at the time. “The commission estimated 3,200 clerical abusers committed those acts of abuse.”

“The Church failed to see or hear, failed to pick up on the weak signals, failed to take the rigorous measures that were necessary,” Jean-Marc Sauvé, president of the commission, said when the initial report was released. For years, the Church showed a “deep, total and even cruel indifference toward victims,” he said.

Just over half of the abuse cases occurred between 1950 and 1969, the report said, falling progressively between 1970 and 1990. The head of the French Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, called the scale of the abuse “appalling,” and said that the voice of the victims “moves us deeply. Their number overwhelms us. It goes beyond what we might have imagined.”

The commission was set up in 2018 by the Bishops’ Conference of France and the Conference of Religious Men and Women of France, in response to a growing number of historical sexual abuse claims. It studied Church, court, and police files and media reports and heard from some 6,500 people — both victims and persons close to them. 

The commission made 45 recommendations for reform, including revising the Code of Canon Law, improved discernment and formation for seminarians, and setting up concrete recognition mechanisms such as public ceremonies, liturgical celebrations commemorating the suffering inflicted, and memorials to the victims and their suffering.

CIASE urged the Church to pay victims with its own assets, instead of asking parishioners to contribute, AFP said. Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort said the Church would pay for the abuse claims by selling off real estate and drawing on its financial holdings. But the Church did not discourage parishioners from donating to the fund, either.

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