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French Catholic Bishops Announce "vast program of renewal" after Abuse Report

French bishops’ conference president Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort kneels in a sign of penance at Lourdes, Nov. 6, 2021. Valentine Chapuis/AFP via Getty Images.

Catholic bishops in France announced Monday that they have agreed to “a vast program of renewal” of governance practices in response to a landmark report on clerical sex abuse.

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops’ conference, said Nov. 8 that the bishops had decided to “initiate a path of recognition and reparation opening for the victims the possibility of mediation and compensation.”

“All of the resolutions that we have voted on constitute a vast program of renewal of our governance practices at the level of the dioceses and at the level of the Church in France,” the archbishop of Reims said in an address broadcast live on French television.

Moulins-Beaufort made the announcement on the final day of the bishops’ plenary assembly in Lourdes, southwestern France, which took place Nov. 2-8.

During the week-long meeting, the bishops heard from multiple abuse victims and discussed the implications 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 bishops knelt in an act of penance in Lourdes on Saturday in which an image of a weeping child was unveiled and an abuse survivor shared a testimony.

Moulins-Beaufort said in his speech that the bishops had recognized the Church’s “institutional responsibility” and had decided to implement reforms based on what they had learned from the 2,500-page report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE).

“We did it above all because we felt God’s gaze on us, because we felt disgust and fear rise up in us as we realized what so many people had experienced and were experiencing in terms of suffering, even though they had the right to receive the light, the consolation, the hope of God,” the archbishop said.

Among the resolutions voted on by the French bishops was an agreement to sell off real estate and movable property of some Catholic dioceses as necessary to supplement a fund to compensate abuse victims.

The bishops also established working groups dedicated to supporting the Church’s efforts to address and prevent abuse.

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“We have to seek the truth of the Church, of the Church of Jesus, in a renewed listening to the poor and the little ones, to those who are the victims or left behind in our collective life. For us today, we have to listen attentively to the victims in our Church,” Moulins-Beaufort said.

The CIASE report, published on Oct. 5, estimated 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.”

Moulins-Beaufort said that the French bishops would submit the CIASE recommendations that concern the universal Church to Pope Francis for his consideration, after some small revisions.

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“We decided together to ask the pope, since we are appointed by him, to come to our aid, sending someone he trusts to discuss with us the way we have treated and treat the victims and their aggressors,” the bishop said.

Pope Francis sent a letter to the French bishops last week in light of the plenary assembly, urging them 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 published 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.”