The French Church is not cooperating fully with the independent Church sex abuse inquiry, a survivor has denounced.


“The bishops need to recognize that there has been a terrible omertà [conspiracy of silence], and that this omerta persists”, Marie-Noëlle, a 67-year-old survivor, said February 11 to La Croix.

Marie-Noëlle, soon to turn 68, was raped by a nun when she was 15 years old.

Last November in Lille she gave part of her testimony to the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase), set up by the French Bishops in 2018 to clear up cases of sex abuse in the Church since 1950.

Marie-Noëlle had already spoken to the commissioners a few months prior, but she said she is still waiting for Ciase, headed up by Jean-Marc Sauvé, a respected public servant and former vice-president of the French Council of State, to verify her own research on the religious who sexually abused her.

“I haven’t had any feedback from our exchange, either. I don’t know if we need to restart them because they have a monstrous job to do”, Marie-Noëlle told La Croix.

But it’s not so much the delay of the Commission that annoys the French survivor as much as the lack of communication in the Church in respect of the inquiry.

Marie-Noëlle says neither she nor her supporters ever saw in their parishes flyers for the public call for submissions to the Commission – currently on a tour around France collecting testimonies – and neither did they hear the appeal for survivors to come forward slated for Masses on June 30, 2019.

“Many say that we talk about it too much. Even though I understand their discomfort, the victims continue to suffer in the flesh”, Marie-Noëlle lamented.

“Rather than separate the issue from the realm of pedo-criminality, which is rooted in clericalism, they [the bishops] should take it up with us”.

“Let the Church read the Gospel”

Marie-Noëlle is one of the 4,500 clerical sex abuse survivors that have come forward to the Ciase since June 2019.

Jean, 74, is another.

“It happened. People of the Church, men in whom we trusted, have done this”, Jean told La Croix, detailing his experience of being sexually and spiritually abused as a young boy by his teacher and confessor, which he shared with Ciase this month.

When members of the commission, during his testimony, asked Jean what he expected of the Church, he replied: “Let her read the Gospel”.

As many as 10,000 victims in 70 years

The 4,500 sex abuse survivors in the French Church who have come forward to tell Ciase their stories since June 2019 seems like a lot.

But Ciase head Sauvé was warning last November that the number of testimonies the Commission hears could eventually reach as high as 10,000.

Speaking to reporters three months ago, Sauvé said that in its first five months of life the commission he leads has received 3,400 telephone, email and written complaints of victims and witnesses of child sex abuse in the Church, along with about two dozen in-person declarations of survivors of two hours each.

That’s up from the 2,000 complaints the commission had received by mid-September 2019, a 70% increase in just two months.

“The work started has given significant results, but certainly not representative, of all sexual abuse that may have been committed in such a long period, taking into account that 65% of the French population over 18 years of age has maintained regular contacts with the Catholic Church”, Sauvé warned.

The Commission is due to hand down its report on sex abuse in the French Church in the first half of 2021.

That report will include an evaluation of child protection measures put in place by the French Bishops since 2000, and recommendations for further action on their part in the future.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.