French investigators have admitted they have been “very surprised” by a “flood” of complaints to a Church sex abuse commission.

Driving the news

The chairman of an independent commission into pedophilia in the French Church, Jean-Marc Sauvé, told the AFP that investigators have received “2,000 telephone calls, emails and letters” in the commission’s first three months of life.

650 people have agreed to fill out a detailed questionnaire on the abuse they suffered as children, Sauvé added.


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The big picture

Sauvé, a former vice-president of France’s highest administrative court, also told the AFP that to date 16 victims and witnesses of clergy abuse have been heard by the commission, and 15 cases have been forwarded to prosecutors.

The commissioner explained that most complainants are people aged above 50, and that two-thirds are men.

Sauvé said he had been “impressed by the readiness of victims to tell their story”.

“All of these testimonies reveal a lot of suffering and great distress.

“They leave little doubt about the seriousness and authenticity of what happened and about the long-term consequences of these abuses”, the commissioner affirmed.

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Sauvé also revealed that complaints had reached the commission from all over France, with a majority from centres like Paris, Lyon or Marseille, but also from places with a strong Catholic tradition, particularly in the west of the country.

“Many victims have not necessarily broken with the Catholic Church, but there is a feeling of betrayal of the teaching of the Church and the Gospel”, the jurist said.

Sauvé also said that in coming months the commission will undertake a tour of France to spread the word about its existence, and to hear from victims Sauvé believes exist but who “have not yet dared to speak”.

The commission also has plans to publish testimonies on its website “to make the painful realities of the abuse understood”, Sauvé said.

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What’s next

Sauvé told the AFP that the commission has also received answers to questionnaires on abuse from 20 dioceses and 50 male and female religious orders.

He said the commission had also made contact with the Vatican to obtain access to the Holy See’s archives on abuse complaints.

The Sauvé Commission was set up last year in response to widespread claims of pedophilia in the Church in France and around the world.

22 legal professionals, doctors, historians, sociologists and theologians began work with the commission in June, with a call for testimonies and with the establishment of a telephone hotline.

The commission has a budget of some 3 million euros, with two-thirds being funded by the French Bishops and one-third by the country’s religious orders.

The call for evidence is expected to continue until next June, with the commission planning to hand down its findings by the end of 2020.

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