Bishops in France have announced that an “independent” commission will be established to investigate the decades-long sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church in the European country.
Following a four-day meeting in the southwestern French city of Lourdes, the Bishops' Conference of France (CEF) said in a statement on Wednesday that the aim of the commission would be to “shed light on the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church since 1950.”
The statement, by 118 bishops, added that the panel would seek “to understand the reasons which led to the way these affairs were handled” and would make recommendations.
The commission would also be “collecting the stories of victims in order to better understand the reasons that led to these acts,” and would offer financial compensation to the victims, according to the statement.
The CEF said that the members and leadership of the commission would be named in the coming days, with a report to be published “within 18 months to 2 years.”
Bishop Ribadeau Dumas, the spokesperson of the CEF, speculated that the commission could be composed of historians, magistrates, child specialists, sociologists of the institution, and a “canonist.”
The most senior French Catholic cleric involved in an abuse scandal is Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who is to be tried in January for allegedly covering up a sex abuse scandal involving a priest in the 1980s.
The Vatican has been rocked by a series of pedophile scandals committed by the clergy in Europe, Australia, and North and South America.
In a damning US report in August, more than 300 “predator” priests were accused of abusing over 1,000 minors over seven decades in the state of Pennsylvania alone. According to that report, Catholic bishops covered up child sexual abuse by priests and reassigned them repeatedly to different parishes.
That same pattern of cover-up has reportedly taken place in other countries as well.
Pedophilia in the Catholic Church has done enormous damage to its image.
Pope Francis, who was appointed in 2013 with a mandate to overhaul the Vatican, has said that there would be “zero tolerance” toward clerical sex abuse. He promised to take strong action in response to accusations of cover-up and leniency by the Vatican.
However, the pontiff has been accused of being too soft on pedophiles. His credibility on the issue has been hit by a series of missteps, and victims’ organizations maintain that the Church remains reluctant to hand pedophile priests over to criminal justice systems.