The first six victims of sexual abuse in the French Church have been compensated by a special fund the bishops set up after the pioneering Sauvé report last October estimated the total number of abuse cases since 1950 at 330,000.
An independent commission on Church abuse, set up after the report to verify accusations for the fund, said last month 736 people had reported their cases to them. Further payments would follow.
The first payments “show the rapid commitment of our fund to the files transmitted to it, even if we are aware that victims have been waiting for 20 or 30 years”, an official of the so-called Selam Fund told the daily La Croix.
The names of the six victims and sums involved were not made public, which prompted some to criticise this as secretive. But moving quickly reflected the bishops’ view they could no longer play down the issue.
Dioceses have already begun marking property for sale to raise money for the fund called Selam, an acronym for “Solidarity and the Fight against Sexual Assault on Minors”.
Compensation will be between €5,000 and €60,000, depending on the severity of a case. The committee verifying abuse claims said last month that compensation requests were quite varied, with only just over half asking for money.
The Selam fund has amassed €20 million in contributions from the bishops conference, the dioceses and individual donors. Apart from compensation, it has also decided to help finance two initiatives against sexual abuse.
One is a university diploma course “Abuse and Care” starting at the Institut Catholique de Paris this autumn to reinforce the struggle against abuse in the Church. The other aims to sensitise leaders in chaplaincies and youth movements.
The Sauvé report, launched by the Church after years of underestimating the problem, shocked France with its estimate of 330,000 cases since 1950, two-thirds of them by priests.
Critics have denounced the report’s methodology, but the bishops conference has accepted its findings and the need to act decisively.
As bishops’ conference head Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort said recently: “The Church hopes to restore confidence and humbly regain real credibility … through this labour of truth, painful and necessary, and the strong measures it has taken.”