France’s top bishop has warned an upcoming report on clerical sexual abuse will be “quite frightening” and the head of the independent commission investigating the scandal has admitted he had to seek psychological help after listening to victims’ testimonies.
Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, head of the episcopal conference, held five meetings with parishioners in his Reims archdiocese in September to prepare them for the report of the extensive inquiry led by retired senior civil servant Jean-Marc Sauvé.
“If for a while we thought we had been spared in France by this scourge, we had to face the facts: there are serious and numerous cases of abuse committed by priests,” the archbishop told one meeting.
“I’m afraid that, on 5 October, the report of the independent commission on sexual abuse in the Church will deliver quite frightening numbers,” he told another.
Sauvé estimated last March that his commission would find at least 10,000 abuse cases since 1950. He was appointed by the bishops’ conference in 2018 as pressure mounted on the Church to face up to the scandal.
For the past two and a half years, the commission of 21 lay specialists – men and women, Catholics and non-Catholics – has toured France scouring archives and meeting victims to compile the report.
After listening to a victim for two hours in late 2019, Sauvé told Le Monde, he admitted he needed help to continue. Several other commission members also consulted a psychologist to help process what they heard.
“Listening to the victims gave flesh to an abstract mission,” Sauvé told Le Monde. “The great difficulty is being able to receive [this information] without being swept away by what you hear.”
Apparently not enough clergy have followed Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort’s example. “It’s not sure parishes really measure and anticipate the shock wave this unprecedented survey could create,” said the lay Catholic weekly La Vie.
Although the scandal here has made headlines as far back as 2001, clerics argued that France’s often anti-clerical secularists were so prompt in uncovering misdeeds that there couldn’t be too much hidden.
But in recent years, several heads of new religious communities have been uncovered as abusers. The archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, resigned after it emerged he had long covered up for a serial abusing priest who has since been sentenced to five years in prison.
The forthcoming report was discussed with the Pope during the French bishops’ ad limina visit to Rome last week. According to the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, Francis told the bishops to “look the truth in the face”.