13 July 2023, The Tablet

Bulk of French bishops attend Vatican abuse training

The Sauvé report in 2021 estimated 330,000 cases of sexual abuse in the French Church since 1950.

Bulk of French bishops attend Vatican abuse training

French bishops pray with Pope Francis in October 2021 following the publication of the Sauvé report.
Vatican Media / CNA

Almost three-quarters of France’s active bishops have attended special Vatican sessions on recognising and reporting sexual abuse of minors, prompted by the shocking 2021 report on abuse in the French Church.

The bishops travelled to Rome in three groups – in February, May and July — for two days of discussions with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Bishops on their responsibility when confronted with clerical abuse of minors.

This apparently the first time that so large a proportion of a country’s hierarchy has received this instruction.

The Vatican has strict policies on abuse but has struggled to enforce them, with bishops in many countries unsure what to do when confronted with such cases.

The training was suggested by a working group led by retired judge Jean-Marc Sauvé, officially known as the Ciase report, which in 2021 estimated 330,000 cases of sexual abuse in the French Church since 1950, two-thirds of them by priests.

The bishops initially asked for an apostolic visitation to each diocese to review their cases, but the Vatican had insufficient staff for that, so the French bishops travelled to Rome in groups.

“The idea is to help bishops deal with these situations, but also to create a collective spirit of mutual help to get through these difficulties together,” a bishops’ conference official told La Croix.

Attendance was voluntary and 70 of the 98 bishops in office in France took part. Some could not for scheduling reasons, the conference said, but “it iss likely that other sessions will be organised”.

The Archbishop of Reims Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, who heads the conference, has accepted the shocking 2021 report and encouraged bishops to consider reforms.

Inspired by the report, nine working groups of lay and ordained Catholics have worked out proposals for the Vatican. A conference plenary in March reserved them for further study, but the archbishop insisted “this is not meant to get rid of them”.

During their sessions in Rome, the bishops met experts from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors.

They were told what they had to report, how the dicastery deals with the cases, and studied several concrete cases to see how this works in practice. They did not examine any current cases from their own dioceses.

At the Dicastery for Bishops, they reviewed Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ 2019 motu proprio on bishops’ responsibility for tackling abuse.  

There were also working sessions organised by the bishops’ conference to discuss problems such as recognising subtle signs of abuse and who to tell what.

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