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CRIME

French government summons archbishop over ‘confession above law’ stance

The French government on Thursday summoned for explanation a top archbishop who said priests should not go to the police after hearing about child sexual abuse during confession.

Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort has been summoned by the French Interior Minister
Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort has been summoned by the French Interior Minister. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort made the remark after a government inquiry lifted the lid on “massive” sexual assault in the French Catholic Church, estimating 216,000 victims over 70 years in systemic abuse covered up by a “veil of secrecy.”

The commission recommended a series of measures to protect minors from predatory clergy, which included priests informing prosecutors of any child abuse they hear mentioned during the act of confession, a sacrament traditionally bound by strict secrecy.

“We need to find another way of doing this,” Moulins-Beaufort, head of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF), told France Info radio on Wednesday.

The secrecy of confession “is above the laws of the Republic. It creates a free space for speaking before God,” he said.

His words were in line with new Vatican guidelines, released last year on handling clerical child abuse cases, which state that any crime discovered during confession is subject to “the strictest bond of the sacramental seal.”

But in France, victims’ advocates reacted furiously to the archbishop’s remarks, saying that while French law recognises professional confidentiality for priests, it does not apply in cases of violence or sexual assault against minors.

“Nothing is above the laws of the Republic,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Thursday.

Moulins-Beaufort has been summoned to appear before Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin early next week “to explain his comments,” the minister’s office said.

Attal said President Emmanuel Macron asked Darmanin to hold the meeting.

The French archbishop on Tuesday expressed his “shame and horror” when the landmark report was released after a more than two-year investigation.

Pope Francis also expressed his “shame for the inability of the Church for too long” to put victims at the centre of its concerns.

Member comments

  1. I can understand the confidentiality of the confession. But sexual abuse against minors is one area I believe where it should change. I view this as the Church says all life is scared. I belive it is. But what do you do when this childs has changed because they were abused? Does that not violate this? Sexual abuse is a demeaning of the individual in the face of God, and also the position of the Church that life is sacred. Sexual abuse demeans the love of God for us. It cheapens the concept. Is this what the Church wants to accomplish? I go to confession. I know that everything I tell my priest will be held in confidence, never to be told to anyone. Except, when a life is put in danger by abuse, the church must act. This is what God will want us to do. This is not 1200, this is 2021. Situations change. And so must the chuirch on this 1 issue. Everything else can stay between you and your Priest. Now Priests, let me pose this question to you. What do you do if the child has not been confirmed? They are NOT an adult in the eyes of the Church yet. You have an obligation to protect them. And what will you do about unbaptized children of Catholic parents?

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POLITICS

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What’s in France’s 2023 budget?

France's finance minister has unveiled the government's financial plans for the next year, and says that his overall aim is to 'protect' households in France from inflation and rises in the cost of living - here's what he announced.

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What's in France's 2023 budget?

The 2023 Budget was formally presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, before economy minister Bruno Le Maire announced the main details to the press. 

The budget must now be debated in parliament, and more details on certain packages will be revealed in the coming days, but here is the overview;

Inflation – two of the biggest measures to protect households from the rising cost of living had already been announced – gas and electricity prices will remain capped in 2023, albeit at the higher rate of 15 percent, while low-income households will get a €100-200 grant. The energy price cap is expected to cost the government €45 billion in 2023.

EXPLAINED: What your French energy bills will look like in 2023

Property renovations – the MaPrimeRenov scheme, which gives grants to householders for works that make their homes more energy-efficient, will be extended again into 2023, with a budget of €2.5 billion to distribute.

Income tax – the income tax scale will be indexed to inflation in 2023, so that workers who get a pay increase to cope with the rising cost of living don’t find themselves paying more income tax. “Disposable income after tax will remain the same for all households even if their salary increases,” reads the 2023 Budget.

Pay rises –  pay will increase for teachers, judges and other civil servants as inflation is forecast to reach 4.3 percent next year after 5.4 percent in 2022. Around €140 million is assigned to increase the salaries of non-teaching staff in schools. 

New jobs – nearly 11,000 more public employees will be hired, in a stark reversal of President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign promise to slash 120,000 public-sector jobs – 2,000 of these jobs will be in teaching. 

Small business help – firms with fewer than 10 employees and a turnover of less than €2 million will also benefit from the 15 percent price cap on energy bills in 2023. The finance ministry will put in place a simplified process for small businesses to claim this aid. In total €3 billion is available to help small businesses that are suffering because of rising costs. 

Refugees – In the context of the war in Ukraine, the government plans to finance 5,900 accommodation places for refugees and asylum seekers in various reception and emergency accommodation centres. The budget provides for a 6 percent increase in the “immigration, asylum and integration” budget.

Cigarettes – prime minister Elisabeth Borne had already announced that the price of cigarettes will rise “in line with inflation”.

Ministries – Le Maire also announced the budget allocation for the various ministries. The Labour ministry is the big winner with an increase of 42.8 percent compared to last year, coupled with the goal to reach full employment by 2027. Education gets an increase of €60.2 billion (or 6.5 percent more than in 2022), much of which will go on increasing teachers’ salaries, while the justice and environment ministries will also see increased budgets.

Conversely, there was a fall in spending for the finance ministry itself.

Borrowing –  the government will borrow a record €270 billion next year in order to finance the budget. “This is not a restrictive budget, nor an easy one – it’s a responsible and protective budget at a time of great uncertainties,” said Le Maire. 

The government is tabling on growth of one percent, a forecast Le Maire defended as “credible and pro-active” despite an estimate of just 0.5 percent GDP growth by the Bank of France, and 0.6 percent from economists at the OECD.

The public deficit is expected to reach five percent of GDP, as the EU has suspended the rules limiting deficit spending to three percent of GDP because of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Parliament

The budget plans now need to be debated in parliament where they are likely to face fierce opposition. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist LREM party and its allies lost their majority in elections earlier this year.

Macron also plans to push ahead with a pension reform that would gradually start pushing up the official retirement age from 62 currently, setting up a standoff with unions and left-wing opposition parties.

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