PARIS – An investigation into sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church has revealed that around 216,000 children have been victims of abuse committed by the clergy since 1950, said Tuesday Jean-Marc Sauvé, head of the commission which drafted The report.
The revelations in France are the latest to rock the Roman Catholic Church, after a string of worldwide sexual abuse scandals, often involving children, over the past 20 years.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
The abuse was systemic, Sauve said in a public online presentation of the report, adding that the Church had shown “deep, utter and even cruel indifference for years”, protecting itself rather than the victims. .
The Church not only failed to take the necessary steps to prevent abuse, but also turned a blind eye, failing to report the abuse and sometimes knowingly putting children in contact with predators, he said.
Speaking just after Sauve during the presentation of the report, the Archbishop of Reims and head of the conference of bishops of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, spoke of shame, asked for forgiveness and promised to act.
The commission was created by the Catholic bishops of France at the end of 2018 to shed light on the abuses and restore public confidence in the Church at a time of shrinking congregations. It operated independently of the Church.
Sauve said the problem was still there. He added that the Church had until the 2000s shown complete indifference to the victims and that it did not begin to really change its attitude until 2015-2016.
The teaching of the Catholic Church on topics such as sexuality, obedience and the sanctity of the priesthood has helped create blind spots that allowed for sexual abuse by the clergy, Sauve said, adding that the church needed to reform the way it approached these issues to restore trust with society.
Sauve said the commission itself had identified around 2,700 victims through a call for testimony, and thousands more were found in the archives.
But a large study by research and polling groups estimated there were around 216,000 victims, and the number could rise to 330,000 including abuse by lay members.
There have been around 2,900 to 3,200 suspected pedophiles in the French Church over the past 70 years, Sauve said.
“You are a disgrace for our humanity,” François Devaux, who created the La Parole Libérée victims’ association, told church representatives during the public presentation of the report, before Sauve took the floor.
“In this hell, there were abominable mass crimes (…) but there was even worse, betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children,” said Devaux, also accusing the Church of cowardice.
He thanked the commission, saying he hoped the report would mark a turning point: “You are finally giving victims institutional recognition of the Church’s responsibility.