French Church abuse inquiry head Jean-Marc Sauvé

French Church sex abuse inquiry head blasts bishops for “clumsy” response to complaints

The head of the French Church’s independent inquiry into clerical sex abuse has blasted the country’s bishops for their “clumsy” handling of complaints.

Driving the news

Jean-Marc Sauvé, the president of the commission set up by the French Bishops last year to investigate sex abuse in the Church back to the 1950s, spoke out ahead of presenting the Bishops with a progress report this Thursday in the episcopate’s Autumn Assembly.

Sauvé, a former vice-president of the French Council of State, admitted he had been “very affected” by hearing from clerical sex abuse survivors.

“It is an extremely violent shock to confront their suffering, the trauma left by these abuses in their lives, and the often non-existent or clumsy management of the Church”, Sauvé said.

“For some abusers, there is nothing in the file”, the jurist denounced.

“Either the bishop was not informed, or he handled the case according to old methods, contenting himself with moving the priest.

“Or there was a report but, in accordance with canon law, the priest’s file was deleted ten years after his death”.

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Go deeper

Since setting up in early June, the Sauvé Commission, or Ciase by its French initials, has heard in-person testimonies from 25 victims, for two hours per testimony.

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That’s on top of the 2,800 telephone calls, e-mails and letters it has received outlining even more Church abuse complaints, and the 800 questionnaires it has got back with detailed answers to specific questions on victims’ suffering and Church inaction.

Other Commission members have spoken about being “as upset as ever” at the “loneliness” of victims, which those members say has left them “very struck” and “shaking”.

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Why it matters

Although the Sauvé inquiry has already received a huge number of complaints, experts say the real number of sex abuse victims in the French Church could actually be much higher.

That’s because as many as two-thirds of all French people over 18 have attended Church schools or youth movements at some point in their lives.

85 percent of respondents to the Sauvé inquiry are 50 years of age or older, and it is thought that many more victims are either afraid to speak out or haven’t yet heard of the Ciase Commission.

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That’s why the Sauvé inquiry will be going on a “Tour de France” over the next six months, with the aim of hearing from victims in regional centres.

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What’s next

Sauvé’s presentation to the French Bishops’ Assembly Thursday comes at a difficult time for the French Church.

One of the French Church’s major orders, the Brothers of St. John, have been forced to refound in order to distance themselves from their founder, former Dominican Father Marie-Dominique Philippe, who sexually abused several women over a period of years.

The French Bishops are also dealing with the fallout from renowned director Francois Ozon’s latest film on the sex abuse crisis in the Lyon diocese, where Archbishop and Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was convicted in March of covering up the abuse of a pedophile priest.

One of the proposals the Bishops will discuss Saturday to tackle the crisis is that of a “financial gesture” to abuse survivors.

Bishop Pascal Delannoy, the Bishops’ pointman on sexual abuse, stressed that the payment would be a one-time lump sum.

The money would not be in “restitution”, Delannoy explained, saying that “compensation” was the prerogative of the courts.

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Instead the “allowance” would be “in recognition of the suffering” inflicted on the victims, the bishop said.

But victims have criticised the bishops for using the term “allowance” instead of “compensation”, and said that the prelates are only trying to avoid assuming moral responsibility for the abuse.

Survivor Francois Devaux, of the victims’ association La Parole Libérée, accused the bishops of playing a “perverse game”.

“Their only concern is to get out of the state of crisis”, lamented Devaux, adding that the “allowance” for victims is a way for bishops to clean their consciences with respect to the abuse.

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