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CRIME

French Catholic Church inquiry finds 216,000 sex abuse victims dating back to 1950s

An independent inquiry into alleged sex abuse of minors by French Catholic priests, deacons and other clergy has found some 216,000 victims from 1950 to 2020, a "massive phenomenon" that was covered up for decades by a "veil of silence."

All Saints' Day mass at the Sacre-Coeur basilica in Paris. A new report claims at least 2,900 paedophiles have operated in the Catholic Church in France since 1950.
A new report claims at least 2,900 paedophiles have operated in the Catholic Church in France since 1950. Photo: THOMAS COEX / AFP.

The landmark report, released on Tuesday after two and a half years of investigations, follows widespread outrage over a string of sex abuse claims and prosecutions against Church officials worldwide.

When lay members of the Church such as teachers at Catholic schools are included, the number of child abuse victims climbs to 330,000 over the seven-decade period.

“These figures are more than worrying, they are damning and in no way can remain without a response,” the president of the investigative committee, Jean-Marc Sauve, said at a press conference.

“Until the early 2000s the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims,” he said.

Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF) which co-requested the report, expressed his “shame and horror” at the findings.

“My wish today is to ask forgiveness from each of you,” he told the news conference.

Commission president Jean-Marc Sauve attends the publishing of a report  commission into sexual abuse by church officials.

Commission president Jean-Marc Sauve attends the publishing of a report commission into sexual abuse by church officials. Photo: THOMAS COEX / various sources / AFP.

Sauve denounced the “systemic character” of efforts to shield clergy from sex abuse claims, and urged the Church to pay reparations even though most cases are well beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution.

The report, at nearly 2,500 pages, found that the “vast majority” of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a wide variety of social backgrounds.

“The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence,” the report said.

‘Institutional recognition’

Sauve had already told AFP on Sunday that a “minimum estimate” of 2,900 to 3,200 paedophiles had operated in the French Church since 1950.

Yet only a handful of cases prompted disciplinary action under canonical law, let alone criminal prosecution.

Francois Devaux, head of a victims’ association, condemned a “deviant system” that required a comprehensive response under a new “Vatican III” council led by Pope Francis.

“You have finally given an institutional recognition to victims of all the Church’s responsibilities, something that bishops and the pope have not yet been prepared to do,” Devaux told the conference Tuesday.

The victim estimates were based in large part on a representative study carried out by France’s INSERM health and medical research institute, with a statistical “confidence interval” of 50,000 people more or fewer.

Sauve and his team of 21 specialists, all unaffiliated with the Church, also interviewed hundreds of people who came forward to tell their stories.

“If the veil of silence covering the acts committed has finally been torn open… we owe it to the courage of these victims,” he wrote. “Without their testimony, our society would still be unaware or in denial of what happened.”

The commission also had access to police files as well as Church archives, citing only two cases of refusals by Church institutions to turn over requested documents.

Overall, it found that 2.5 percent of French clergy since 1950 had sexually abused minors, a ratio below the 4.4 to 7 percent uncovered by similar inquiries in other countries.

While that would imply an unusually high number of victims per assailant, “a sexual predator can in fact have a high number of victims, especially those who attack boys”, the report found.

For commission chief Sauve, until his retirement one of France’s highest-ranking civil servants, the inquiry hit close to home.

Shortly after accepting the job, he got a letter from a former classmate at his boarding school, recounting abuse at the hands of the priest who gave them both music lessons.

Sauve told Le Monde newspaper last month that his commission discovered that the priest – who later left the school without warning – had abused dozens of others.

Member comments

  1. At least the Catholic church is prepared to look at its own history and own what happened under its umbrella. How long will it take for the other international organisations to look at their own histories, I wonder? The Scouts have had their scandals but nothing has been done on this scale; football, gymnastics, judo, you name it. There have been scandals at so many times and in so many countries, but after the indignation and the excuses nothing came out of it. It’s always a “bad ‘un” that did it; never a good look at the organisational culture.

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CRIME

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.

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