Pope expresses “shame” at clergy abuse in France

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VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis on Wednesday expressed “shame” on himself and the Roman Catholic Church for the extent of child sexual abuse within the church in France and acknowledged its failures to prioritize the needs of victims.

The Pope spoke at his regular Vatican audience about a report released on Tuesday that estimated some 330,000 French children have been abused by clergy and other church authority figures since 1950.

“There are, unfortunately, a considerable number. I would like to express to the victims my sadness and my pain for the trauma they have suffered, ”said Francis. “It is also my shame, our shame, my shame, for the failure of the church for too long to put them at the center of its concerns.”

He called on all bishops and religious superiors to take all necessary measures “so that similar tragedies do not happen again”.

The Pope also expressed his “closeness and paternal support” to French priests in the face of a “difficult trial”, and called on French Catholics to “ensure that the church remains a safe home for all”.

The report states that around 3,000 priests and an unknown number of others associated with the Catholic Church have sexually abused children, providing France’s first account of the global phenomenon. The French church, as in other countries, has had to deal with shameful secrets that have long been hidden.

The chairman of the independent commission which made the conclusions, Jean-Marc Sauvé, stressed on Tuesday that the Catholic authorities had covered up the abuses which had spanned 70 years in a “systematic way”.

Victims hailed the 2,500-page document as long overdue, and the president of the French Catholic Bishops’ Conference asked for their forgiveness.

The report says the tally of 330,000 victims includes around 216,000 people abused by priests and other clergymen, and the remainder by church figures such as Scout leaders and camp counselors. The estimates were based on broader research by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research into child sexual abuse in the country.

The commission urged the church to take strong action, denouncing its “faults” and “silence”. He also called on the Catholic Church to help compensate victims, especially in cases too old to be prosecuted in French courts.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said on Tuesday that Pope Francis learned of the report’s findings “with sadness”.

“His thoughts are first and foremost with the victims, with deep sadness for their injuries and gratitude for their courage to speak out,” Bruni said.

Francis issued a revolutionary ecclesiastical law in May 2019 that requires all Catholic priests and nuns to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups involving their superiors to church authorities. He said in June that every bishop must take responsibility for the “catastrophe” of the sexual abuse crisis.

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