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Pope Francis Urges French Catholic Bishops to Console Victims in Wake of Abuse Report

Pope Francis meets with a group of French bishops on their ad limina visit to Rome, Oct. 1, 2021. Vatican Media.

As Catholic bishops from across France meet this week at the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes to discuss a landmark report on abuse, Pope Francis sent a letter urging the bishops to console victims and care for the “wounded and scandalized holy people of God.”

“As you weather the storm of shame and tragedy over the abuse of minors in the Church, I encourage you to carry your burden with faith and hope, and I carry it with you,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter dated Oct. 14 and published on Nov. 3.

“I am sure that together, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you will find ways to honor and console the victims; to exhort all believers to penance and conversion of heart; to take all necessary measures to make the Church a safe house for all; to take care of the wounded and scandalized People of God; and finally, to take up the mission with joy, looking resolutely to the future.”

The French bishops are meeting at the Marian shrine for their plenary assembly, taking place on Nov. 2-8.

The meeting comes a month after the publication of an independent report estimating that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.

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The French bishops changed the agenda of their plenary assembly to allow more time to discuss the report.

The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) published a nearly 2,500-page final report on Oct. 5, estimating that 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns in France from 1950 to 2020.

It suggested that there were “between 2,900 and 3,200” abusers out of 115,000 clergy and other religious workers, which it noted “would imply a very high number of victims per aggressor.”

The study also said that “more than a third of sexual assaults within the Catholic Church were committed, not by clergy, monks or other religious workers, but by laypersons.”

In his letter, the pope said that he was happy to see that the bishops would also spend time discussing “other subjects of importance which are close to my heart,” including care for creation and ecumenism.

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Pope Francis assured the bishops of his support at a time of “trials and contradictions,” and entrusted them to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary.

“Do not doubt that the people of France are waiting for the Good News of Christ, they need it more than ever,” the pope said.