If things are bad in the United States for the Catholic Church (think California, New York, and New Jersey), they aren’t as bad as in Poland and France. Both countries witnessed the publication of comprehensive abuse reports that quantified the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church since 1950.
In Poland where 90% of the population identifies as Catholic, there were 382 abuse complaints made in the last 28 years. That figure is miniscule compared to what was reported in France-200,000 were abused by Catholic priests over the past seven decades. That is an astounding figure which was part of a 2,500 page report published by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church. The Report detailed how the church hierarchy had repeatedly silenced the victims and failed to report or discipline the clergy members involved.
“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, the commission president, said at a news conference in Paris on Tuesday. For years, the church showed a “deep, total and even cruel indifference toward victims,” he added.
There has been a growing reckoning with sexual abuse in the church in France after a series of high-profile scandals. The investigative commission was set up in 2018 at the request of the Catholic Church in France in response to criticism of its handling of abuse cases.
The Report made certain specific recommendations such as considering the ordination of married men and compensation for survivors of abuse to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
While the Catholic Church in France may have requested the inquiry, it is doubtful they understood the depth and gravity of the problem. According to the NY Times, “About 216,000 minors, mostly boys ages 10 to 13, have been abused by clergy members in France since 1950, according to an estimate by the commission. The figure reached 330,000 after including perpetrators who were laypeople and worked for the church or were affiliated with it, such as Boy Scout organizers or Catholic school staff. The estimate is a projection based on a general population survey, archival analysis, and other sources. The commission also estimated that there had been at least 2,900 perpetrators of sexual abuse among clergy members over the past 70 years — likely an underestimate, Mr. Sauvé said.”
It is difficult to know how the Church recovers from such a revelation or expect to regain the trust of a populace that is already secularized and not influenced by the Church as other generations of French had been. The French Revolution was a paradigm shift for the Catholic Church but even that is not as perilous as the information contained in the Report. Most institutions don’t recover from such news and only time will tell if the Catholic Church in France can muster the resources to confront its own past and recover.
Admitted to practice law in all federal multidistrict litigation courts, the California State Bar and the Florida Bar. His philosophy is to provide aggressive, quality representations and seek fair compensation for individuals and their families who have suffered injury, death, or sexual abuse.