Independent Commission in France to Look Deeper at Catholic Clergy Abuse
An independent commission into the issue of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in France is set to do a deeper dive into the scale of the problem in that country, something that we think will bring much-needed detail and information to the recently reported statistics on this issue.
As noted by Jean-Marc Sauvé, the man in charge of the commission, the early estimate of 3,000 victims is no doubt woefully low. One priest alone, Bernard Preynat, has admitted to abusing at least two children per week for twenty years. That admission indicates that Fr. Preynat alone could have abused more than 2,000 children.
Another factor making it clear that the scale of abuse in France is larger than this early estimate is how popular the commission’s abuse reporting hotline has been. So far, during the year it has operated it has received more than 5,000 calls. Experts say that fewer than forty percent of all victims will ever make a report, so we hope this hotline will stay open and that the commission will work to widely publicize its existence.
A hotline monitored by a trusted law enforcement authority would likely yield the same results achieved by Pennsylvania's Attorney General Josh Shapiro. AG Shapiro’s study looked at a Catholic population of about 1.8 million. It has found 350 abusive priests and over 3,000 victims. France is twenty times the size of the Pennsylvania investigation, and so we believe its numbers should be 20 times higher.
If the US metrics apply to France, many more French priests abused many more French children. Because Catholicism is so embedded in French society, we believe that France's national government should augment the efforts of the current study and add a reconciliation component. They should also require that all French bishops open their “secret archives” so that once and for all, the true impact of abuse can be tallied in France.
This transparency will ultimately enable institutions to be redesigned to protect against abuse and the intentional cover-up that has been a key element of the playbook used by Catholic bishops worldwide. The reconciliation component will provide resources to victims so that they can get help to overcome the devastating impacts of being abuse by a priest, nun or other church employee.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)