At least 10,000 children have fallen victim to sex abuse by clergy and other officials of the Catholic Church in France since the 1950s, an independent commission set up to investigate such crimes said in its preliminary report.
“It’s possible that the figure is at least 10,000,” head of the commission, Jean-Marc Sauve, told AFP, adding that numbers previously suggested by the investigators were “certainly an underestimate.”
The commission, consisting of 22 legal professionals, doctors, historians, sociologists and theologians, was established by French Catholic bishops back in 2018 following a series of scandals involving the clergy that shocked the nation and led to calls for a probe.
In June 2020, it said that the number of children abused at the hands of the Catholic Church in France might amount to 3,000. It also revealed that at least 1,500 clergy and church officials were involved in the abuse over the decades.
Those figures were mostly based on voluntary testimonies the commission collected since 2019 via a special platform. Now, Sauve believes that these accounts alone “do not account for the totality” of cases. The investigators have already collected some 6,500 such testimonies, while also examining data on deceased child abuse victims, as well as seeking information on those who opted not to speak up by studying church archives in a number of dioceses.
“There has been a real system of abuse in a number of Catholic institutions and religious communities,” the head of the commission admitted, adding, however, that the cases of “systemic” abuse are small in number and represent only a “very small” part of the total number of incidents of which the investigators are aware.
The figure presented on Tuesday is still a preliminary one and will be made more “precise” in the future, according to Sauve. The commission is expected to present its final report in late September or early October 2021.
Back in 2018, a group of French Catholics called for the parliament and not the church itself to establish an investigative commission to shed light on clergy misconduct, citing the examples of Australia, Ireland and the US state of Pennsylvania, where similar bodies were created. The group is expected to deliver a set of recommendations in its final report, including compensation for victims.
Yet, according to the French media, the Catholic Church in France will not wait for the commission’s final report and is expected to take a potential decision on financial compensation as early as at its next assembly scheduled for the end of March.
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