07 October 2021, The Tablet

The Church has a debt to pay

Child sexual abuse in france


The discovery of the extent of the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church has resounded through France like a clap of thunder conveying the wrath of God. It is little mitigation of the shock to know that the inquiry, whose report was published on Tuesday, had been commissioned by the Catholic bishops of France themselves, and had not been forced on them. It is also no comfort to learn that it appears that the majority of cases happened several decades ago. This report is a calamity of the first order for a French Church already reeling from high-profile cases of abuse and cover up.

The numbers of victims and survivors are disturbing and shaming, but are consistent with findings elsewhere in the world. The report suggests that during the darkest period, the number of Catholic clergy involved in sexual abuse was something under 5 per cent of the total. That is still a horrifying figure, and prompts several questions that urgently need further investigation. Why, in a body as diverse as the Catholic Church, do we see similar patterns of clerical abuse across the globe? What was going on among the parish clergy and in Religious orders, from the United States to France, from Ireland to Poland, and Chile to Germany, that appears to have triggered a surge in such cases from the 1950s and 1960s onwards?

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