PARIS – French clergymen have sexually abused more than 200,000 children over the past 70 years, a major investigation published Tuesday found, and its authors accused the Catholic Church of turning a blind eye for too long.
The church had “shown deep, total and even cruel indifference for years” and protected itself and not the victims of systemic abuse, said Jean-Marc Sauve, chairman of the commission that produced the report.
Most of the victims are boys, many of them between the ages of 10 and 13. Not only did the church fail to take the necessary steps to prevent abuse, but it also failed to report it and sometimes knowingly exposed children to predators, he said.
Download the. down NBC news app for breaking news and politics
The revelations in France are the latest to rock the Roman Catholic Church after a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world over the past 20 years, often involving children.
The commission was founded by Catholic bishops in France in late 2018 to investigate abuses and restore public confidence in the Church in a time of dwindling parishes. It worked independently of the church.
Sauve said in a public online presentation of the report the problem was still there. He added that the church had been completely indifferent to the victims until the 2000s, and it wasn’t until 2015-2016 that it began to really change its attitudes.
The chairman of the French bishops’ conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said shortly after Sauve that the church was ashamed. He asked for forgiveness and promised to act.
The Catholic Church’s teaching on issues such as sexuality, obedience, and the holiness of the priesthood have helped create blind spots that allow clerical sexual abuse, Sauve said, adding that the church needs to reform its approach to these issues in order to rebuild the confidence of society.
Sauve said the commission itself identified around 2,700 victims and found thousands more in archives through a call for testimony.
But a large-scale study of research and polling institutes estimated there had been around 216,000 victims, and that number could rise to 330,000 if you include lay abuse.
There have been around 2,900-3,200 suspected pedophiles in the French Church over the past 70 years, Sauve said.
Francois Devaux, victim of church abuse and founder of the victims’ association La Parole Liberee, told church officials when presenting the report: “You are a disgrace to our humanity.
“In this hell there have been heinous mass crimes … but there have been worse things, breaches of trust, betrayal of morals, betrayal of children,” said Devaux, also accusing the church of cowardice.
He thanked the commission and hoped that the report would turn out to be a turning point: “You are finally bringing the victims institutional recognition of the responsibility of the church.”