Just in case any of us think the abuse crisis in the Church has gone from a boil to a boil, the report of an independent commission on sexual abuse in France has stepped up the pressure again. – like it should be.
Painful as the revelations are for the collective Catholic psyche, it is important that we continue to expose the tragic truth of the past, to face it both with shame and sadness. It is a mandate for all countries, of course. Canada has seen its own legacy of abuse exposed since the days of Mount Cashel.
It is commendable that the Church of France established in 2018 (better late than never) an independent study that has evidently been exhaustive in its review of cases over the past 70 years. The more than 2,400 pages of the report published on October 5 paint a distressing picture of a Church steeped in clericalism, which protects its own and which has not put in place mechanisms to deal with the accused and the victims.
The numbers are staggering: an estimated 216,000 children have been abused by priests since 1950; 100,000 or more others abused by lay Church workers. In total, between 2,900 and 3,200 priests are involved, as well as other religious.
“The table thus drawn up reveals that the phenomenon of sexual violence in the Catholic Church from 1950 to the present day is massive”, indicates the summary of the report; “That it has diminished over time but is still present; that it is based on many clearly identified features of a systemic nature.
France is sometimes called the “eldest daughter of the Church”, Catholicism being considered the official religion of the country after the conversion of King Clovis I in 496. This distinction lasted only until the French Revolution, but the Church has rebounded to exercise great influence for centuries.
Today is a very different scene. Less than half of its citizens still identify as Catholics and far fewer attend church. The impact of this report on the decline in worshipers in the country – and beyond – is unknown, but it is clear that these investigations must continue.
“Before proclaiming ‘this must never happen again’, the ‘it’ has to be recognized, acknowledged and described,” write the authors of the report. “Those responsible for ‘it’ must be identified and, where possible, remedies for ‘its’ consequences must be found. It is not enough for the Church to claim awareness, albeit too late in the day. Or to pretend that the past is the past and that for the children and vulnerable people of today and tomorrow the same mistakes will not happen again.
There are 45 recommendations in the report, addressing both Church failures and justice for victims. It’s a must-see list for anyone who loves the Church and fears for its future.
Pope Francis has not escaped the harsh light of revelations about abuse, nor the need for the Church to face some ugly truths.
Responding to the French report, he spoke on behalf of many: “I pray and we all pray together – to you Lord the glory, to us the shame. This is the time of shame. “