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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Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted