Letters from Europe: French Survivors Organizations Meeting of October 8, 2022
Ever since he took on the job in March 2021 your Europe Correspondent (based in the southwest of France near Lourdes) has struggled to establish contacts with survivors' associations in the country. This is because over the years a multitude of micro associations have come and gone. When I say "micro" I mean groups with typically a dozen members or so - with several of them set up to deal with one particular offender in one small geographic area.
Still, a dozen of these associations, aware of the harm caused by their fragmentation, decided to gather on the occasion of the first anniversary of the release of the bombshell "CIASE Report" on the sexual abuse of minors in the Church over the last several decades. I had established enough contacts that I was invited to attend the meeting which took place under tight security in the ornate Paris town hall on Saturday, October 8. The security reflects the fact that survivors' "coming out" is often met with hostility by a society with deep catholic roots that has difficulty coming to terms with the appalling crimes committed by the clergy.
The purpose of the meeting was to get to know each other and start thinking about how to unite a disparate movement whose members have different agendas and purposes. An important divide exists between associations/survivors who stay close to the "faith" while others have broken away. (This happens elsewhere including in the US).
Following the release of the CIASE Report, the Church has set up "Reparations" commissions charged with assessing individual levels of financial compensation when statutes of limitations have run out. This was a central theme during the meeting and confirmed to me that unlike what I think is the case in the US French survivors are deeply uncomfortable with the "monetization/quantification" of their trauma and pain. They are also unhappy with the slow pace at which compensation are decided.
The "Reparations" discussions revolve around the arbitrary maximum figure of 60,000€ - roughly the same figure in dollars. Jean-Marc Sauvé, the thoughtful head of the CIASE commission was present at the meeting and was generally well-received. In an unsurprising but disappointing pique of anti-Americanism has was dismissive of the large payments in the US - complaining that much of the money went to lawyers and that statutes of limitations were shockingly short in the US (in France they are of the order of 10-20-30 years depending on the crime).
Jean-René, who represents a survivors association in the Loire Region showed an interest in my "Hall of Atonement", which documents the Church's efforts to atone for its crimes through plaque etc. In fact, Jean-René was instrumental in a plaque placed in the Luçon cathedral and described in the "Hall". The text is more a "prayer" laced with much religious jargon than a show of repentance. The prayer caused consternation with its call for mercy aimed at survivors but also at perpetrators. This interest moved me to add a French translation to the Hall.
The organizers of the meeting were anxious not to rush into anything - so no concrete decision was made art the end of the day - one typical problem being those little fiefdoms are reluctant to merge into something bigger. These folks are media-savvy and several media outlets were invited to a press conference at the end of the day, resulting in nationwide coverage of the event.
Despite my representing an American association I was warmly received at the meeting and offered assistance if SNAP can in any way help French survivors get organized. But cultural differences and sensitivities abound and are paramount.