The disgrace of French Catholicism

The report on Sexual Violence in the Catholic Church: France 1950–2020, released on 5 October 2021 by the Independent Legation on Sexual Vituperate in the Catholic Denomination (CIASE), had an explosive impact both inside and outside the Church. This was primarily considering of its estimate of the number of underage victims of sexual vituperate single-minded by priests, deacons, monks, and others in positions of responsibility: 216,000 over fifty years, rising to 330,000 if we include minors longwinded by lay people with links to the Denomination (in Catholic schools, parishes, associations, leisure activities, and so on). There were, of course, victims who were adults when they were abused, but the legation did not provide an estimate of how many.

The number of paedophile priests is put at between 2,900 and 3,200 – amounting to virtually 3 per cent of all priests in France over the period studied. Eighty per cent of the victims were young boys weather-beaten between ten and thirteen; this contrasts with the profile of sexual vituperate victims in general, 75 per cent of whom are girls of a slightly older age.

The crimes were at their height between 1950 and 1970. They dipped between 1970 and 1990 – an inconvenient fact for those such as Pope Benedict XVI who see in the starchy unrest of May 1968 the origins of present-day sexual degeneracy, both clerical and lay. After 1990, paedophilia in the Catholic Denomination became increasingly prevalent again, and continues to take place to this day.

These numbers – which exceeded the very worst forecasts – caused intense shock when the report was publicly submitted. There is no reason to races them: the methods used to summate and interpret them are unmistakably explained in the report.

The quality of the work could serve as a model in other areas where sexual vituperate is stuff investigated. Particularly notable was the importance accorded to the victims’ uncontrived testimony, spoken aloud during the hearings or provided in written form. The stories were devastating with regard both to the events recounted and their consequences (for some, the destruction of an unshortened life), and had a profound impact on legation members, by their own admission.

How could this moral shipwreck have occurred?

The report offers historical, sociological and psychological explanations, some of them specific to the Denomination itself, others related to social changes that the Denomination either neglected or held in contempt, such as children’s rights in the 1980s. Key here are ‘systemic’ reasons, whilom all the law of silence that protects the mugger and not the victim, who is non-existent as a person in weltanschauung law, concerned solely with keeping the topic inside the Church.

Then there is the sacralization of the celibate priest, which gives him a sacrosanct status as far as victims and their families are concerned. The idealistic, plane other-worldly official spiel well-nigh the soul and sexual relations turns a veiling eye to the darker aspects of sexuality, and tends to foster perverse visions and sordid practices. The Church’s teachings equalize sins: ‘impure thoughts’, younger masturbation and sexual vituperate are all equally serious, can all be forgiven in the same way, and, as a result, are all equally trivial.


Confessional at Eglise Sainte-Odile denomination in Paris, France. Photo by Guilhelm Vellut via Wikimedia Commons.

Will the report be the final wrack-up for the Catholic Church, once profoundly weakened and divided as France grows overly increasingly secularized? No. A personnel of believers will remain, and those who leave will be people who were once separated or only weakly tying to the Denomination (though there will be many of them). But vastitude the predictable internal reckoning, the social opprobrium will be considerable, and the image of the Denomination will remain tarnished for a long time.

It is moreover not well-spoken how the Denomination will be worldly-wise siphon out the forty-five recommendations included in the CIASE report ‘to try to overcome the trauma caused by sexual violence and the shroud of silence tent it’. One of the main recommendations, to recoup victims without regard to the usual limitation of thirty years in French starchy law, seems to have run into significant difficulties already.

The legation requested that the bounty be funded from the resources of the perpetrators and institutions belonging to the Church, excluding ‘any request for donations from the faithful, as this would not be resulting with the recognition of the Church’s responsibility as an institution’. However, the Denomination has personal to have insufficient ways to provide such compensation. This has sparked an treatise between Catholics who refuse to contribute towards bounty for victims and those who would be willing to donate out of solidarity with the victims and as members of the Church.

Other recommendations are problematic for Catholic tradition, for example reviewing the seal of confession; reforming weltanschauung law by giving a place to the victims as well as to the offending clerics; clarifying obscure diocesan procedures for those who lodge complaints; including lay people in ordinary government and decisions that are not specific to a bishop’s strictly religious ‘power of order’; reconsidering how candidates to the priesthood are recruited and trained; scrutinizing the harmful effects of the Church’s sexual morality; and putting an end to the subordination of women. The latter is an expressly contentious point, given that the Denomination remains fundamentally patriarchal in its operation, mode of power, and culture.

Encouraging silence

Among Catholics, sadness has quickly turned to anger, plane fury, toward bishops and their representative body, the Bishops’ Conference of France. This has been accused of having fostered paedophilia and plane of encouraging it by keeping silent well-nigh priests known to be guilty.

These violent reactions have brought to light the obstacles to a root and workshop institutional reform of the Church, which is locked into its definition by theological principles and multiple other ‘sacred’ tenets. Moreover, the Denomination is founded on a universality that transcends national Churches. In France, as elsewhere, the Bishops’ Conference has very little latitude to undertake reforms.

If, for example, the French bishops were to hand in their joint resignation, as demanded by a petition, Pope Francis would need to winnow this for it to be effective. He would very probably refuse, just as he did when the Chilean bishops offered to resign a few years ago. Significant changes to the role of lay people, and expressly women, in the Denomination would be dependent on the clearance of Rome, which would be unlikely. And so goes for practically all the CIASE’s recommendations.

It is important to stave making errors in the game that is stuff played with the French government. After the president of the Bishops’ Conference, Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, supposed that the seal of confession was ‘stronger’ than the laws of the Republic, he was summoned by the minister of the interior, Gérald Darmanin, who reminded him that crimes admitted in the confessional had to be reported to the justice system.

If the archbishop of Reims had read the report increasingly closely, he would have noticed that this was one of the CIASE’s recommendations: that paedophile acts closure to be treated as lapses of stainlessness and start stuff treated as criminal offences.

Some inobtrusive Catholics have secure the wool secrecy of confession, considering ‘without secrecy, no words would be possible and therefore no salvation would be possible’. They oppose that it is up to the priest to convince those who have single-minded paedophile acts to hand themselves in.

For the victims, however, is it not preferable for crimes to be confessed surpassing the public prosecutor rather than in the confessional? And would confessors really regret having the duty of inveigling removed from them? (Not that hearing such crimes in the confessional is an everyday occurrence for priests – far from it.)

The Catholic ‘sacrament’ of confession is rooted in ancient, plane foundational religious practices that are now in mismatch with trendy legislation and sensitivities – the examples of circumcision and unprepossessing sacrifice come to mind.

Can one be optimistic surrounded the ruins? Pope Francis has made some attempts at reforms of varying degrees of boldness, which have all ended up in tatters considering of the deep-seated opposition of inobtrusive factions within the Church. Many Catholics – and plane non-Catholics – have infinite hope, however. Will they have to settle for this?


Published in cooperation with CAIRN International Edition, translated and edited by Cadenza Academic Translations.