A new report has revealed that an estimated 216,000 children have been subjected to “systematic” abuse within the French Catholic Church over the past 70 years.
An independent commission investigating sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in France published the 2,500-page document on Tuesday, revealing abuses committed by some 3,000 priests and other people involved in the church.
The abuses were systemic, emphasized Jean-March Sauvé, head of the commission that compiled the report during the past three years.
Sauvé said the commission itself had identified around 2,700 victims, but that a wide-ranging study by research and polling groups had estimated that there had been around 216,000 victims.
That number could go further up to 330,000 if the victims of abuse by lay members are also included.
Sauvé denounced the church’s attitude until the beginning of the 2000s as “a deep, cruel indifference toward victims.”
The “vast majority” of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a wide variety of social backgrounds, according to the report. “The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence,” it said.
The commission denounced the “faults” and “silence” of the church, calling on France to help compensate the victims.
The president of the Conference of Bishops of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, asked for forgiveness from the victims, saying on Tuesday that “we are appalled” at the conclusions of the report. “I wish on that day to ask for pardon, pardon to each of you,” he told the victims.
The revelations come on the heels of the conviction of the now-defrocked priest Bernard Preynat for sexually abusing minors. He was sentenced to five years in prison last year. Preynat acknowledged having abused more than 75 boys for decades.
In May 2019, Pope Francis issued a new church law requiring all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to report sexual abuse by the clergy and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.
Francis had previously admitted that “corruption runs in cycles,” saying he was determined to root it out in the Catholic Church.
Similar patterns of abuse have emerged at Catholic churches around the globe, undermining the Church’s moral authority, over the past years.