The Bishops of France have approved a plan to make financial restitution to the victims of clergy sex abuse.

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The 120 French Bishops approved the scheme Saturday morning in a vote at their biannual assembly in Lourdes.

Announcing the fund, French Bishops’ President Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said the payouts will be in recognition not only of victims’ suffering, but also of the “silence, negligence, indifference, lack of reaction or bad decisions” survivors faced from the Church when pressing their complaints.

De Moulins-Beaufort, the Archbishop of Reims, added that the Bishops are yet to decide on the size of the fund and of the individual payouts, as well as on the mechanism by which the restitutions will be decided.

He did explain, however, that the payouts will be a lump sum paid out only once.

The restitution plan will be worked out in detail at the Bishops next assembly in April, de Moulins-Beaufort added.

For now, however, the Bishops are appealing for donations to foot the bill.


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Go deeper

In a statement released Saturday on their website, the French Bishops called the plan for reparations a “significant milestone”.

By the scheme, “the bishops wish to manifest clearly and concretely” to victims their recognition not only of their pain but also of historical “dysfunctions within the Church” with respect to the protection of children, the Episcopal Conference statement continued.

The French Bishops also announced the proposal of a “significant liturgical gesture” of pardon and reparation for abuse, the details of which are to be worked out, they said, in conjunction with survivors.

That was on top of the prospect of establishing a permanent memorial to clerical sex abuse victims.

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Why it matters

In their statement Saturday, the French Bishops also said they had been moved by the presentation at their assembly of Jean-Marc Sauvé, the president of the French Church’s independent inquiry into abuse in the Church.

Sauvé had said earlier this week that the commission he leads has received over 2,800 complaints of sex abuse dating back to the 1950s, just in the first five months of its work.

The Sauvé Commission has also received detailed questionnaries back from 800 victims, and has heard from 25 survivors in in-person hearings.

“The majority of [sexual] abuse occurred in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, much more than in later decades”, Sauvé told the Bishops.

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For the record

Clerical sex abuse survivors have been critical of the French Bishops’ determination to use the word “allowance” for victims instead of “compensation”, which the Bishops believe is the province only of the justice system.

“The term ‘allowance’ referred to a regular payment but we are considering a single, lump sum because how to quantify pain?”, Bishop Pascal Delannoy of Saint-Denis, the Bishops’ pointman on sex abuse, explained on Friday, before the restitutions vote.

“[Compensations] are part of the criminal or civil justice system. We encourage victims, whose crimes are not time-barred, to turn to the courts”, Delannoy added.

But survivors said they were not looking for “alms”, and were wary of the Bishops’ “condescension”.

Instead, they said, they were looking for a “gesture of humility” on the part of the prelates.

“There are so many battles still to be fought: How to make the Church safe? How to educate at the right distance between adults and young people?”, survivor Véronique Garnier, who addressed the Bishops in their assembly in Lourdes, told La Croix.

“Money is not everything”.

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