The Catholic Church in France showed complete and sometimes cruel indifference to people who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of clergy for decades, a commission investigating the abuse has found.
The investigation found that an estimated 330,000 children were victims of abuse between 1950 and 2020.
The report said an estimated 3,000 child abusers – two-thirds of them priests – worked in the church during that period.
The scandal in France is the latest to hit the Roman Catholic Church, which has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.
The abuse was systemic, head of the commission Jean-March Sauve said at a public, online presentation of the report.
The church not only did not take the necessary measures to prevent abuse but also turned a blind eye, failing to report abuse and sometimes knowingly putting children in touch with predators, he said.
Mr Sauve said the estimate on victim numbers, based on scientific research, includes abuses committed by priests and others clerics as well as by non-religious people involved in the church. He said about 80% are male victims.
“The consequences are very serious,” he said. “About 60% of men and women who were sexually abused encounter major problems in their sentimental or sexual life.”
The head of the French bishops conference asked forgiveness from the victims.
Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said “we are appalled” at the conclusions of the report.
“I wish on that day to ask for pardon, pardon to each of you,” he told the victims.
The commission worked for two and a half years, listening to victims and witnesses and studying church, court, police and press archives starting from the 1950s. It worked independently from the church.
A hotline launched at the beginning of the probe received 6,500 calls from alleged victims or people who said they knew a victim.
Mr Sauve said 22 alleged crimes that can still be pursued have been forwarded to prosecutors.
More than 40 cases that are too old to be prosecuted but involve alleged perpetrators who are still alive have been forwarded to church officials.
The commission issued 45 recommendations about how to prevent abuse.
These included training priests and other clerics, revising Canon Law – the legal code the Vatican uses to govern the church – and fostering policies to recognise and compensate victims.
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