Nuns used crucifixes to rape girls during decades of abuse carried out by clergy in France’s Catholic Church that saw attacks on 330,000 children covered up ‘by a veil of silence’, a damning report has found.
The 2,500-page landmark report was released Tuesday after more than two years of investigations by an independent commission, in France’s first major reckoning with the devastating phenomenon.
A victim named ‘Marie’ testified that she was abused as an 11-year-old and that when she complained about the abuse to her parents they refused to believe a nun could do such a thing. The abuse continued for another year.
‘I was truly [a gift] for this nun… because she knew full well that she did not risk anything,’ Marie said.
Eighty per cent of victims were young boys between the ages of 10 and 13, however many girls also suffered abuse, not only by priests but also by nuns.
Nuns used crucifixes to rape little girls or forced boys to have sex with them, according to the report.
Pope Francis today expressed to the victims his ‘great sorrow, for their wounds’, adding that he was grateful for the courage they had shown in denouncing what they had been through.
At least 330,000 children were sexually abused in France’s Catholic Church over the last 70 years, a damning report has found. Pictured: The head of France’s Catholic bishops conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort
The investigation found that an estimated 330,000 children were victims of sex abuse within France’s Catholic Church between 1950 to 2020, with an estimated 216,000 people abused by priests and other clerics.
A statement from the Vatican said: ‘First of all [the Pope’s] thoughts go to the victims, with great sorrow, for their wounds.’
‘[His thoughts go to] the Church of France, so that, in the awareness of this terrible reality … it may embark on a path of redemption,’ the statement added.
The President of the Conference of Bishops of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said Tuesday ‘we are appalled’ at the conclusions of the report and the numbers of victims.
He said: ‘This report is tough, it is severe. We have heard the voices of the victims, we have heard their numbers, they are beyond what we could imagine.
‘It is truly unbearable. I express my shame, my dread, my determination to act. You, the victims, some of whom I know by name, I want to tell you that my desire on this day is to ask for your forgiveness.’
The commission that compiled the report urged compensation for victims and strong action from the church, denouncing ‘faults’ and ‘silence’.
The president of the commission that issued the report, Jean-Marc Sauvé, said the estimate, based on scientific research, includes abuses committed by priests and others clerics as well as by non-religious people involved in the church.
The report says an estimated 3,000 ‘criminal paedophiles’ – two-thirds of them priests – have preyed on hundreds of thousands of mainly young boys who were at Catholic schools and other institutions.
Some 86 per cent of victims were male children – many of whom did not report the abuse they suffered for decades.
Sauvé said the overall figure of victims includes an estimated 216,000 people abused by priests and other clerics.
The independent inquiry covered alleged sex abuse of minors by French Catholic priests, deacons and other clergy since 1950, and found the abuse was a ‘massive phenomenon’ that was covered up for decades by a ‘veil of silence.’
The 2,500-page landmark report was released Tuesday after more than two years of investigations by an independent commission. Pictured: Commission president Jean-Marc Sauve (left), hands copies of the report to Catholic Bishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort (right)
The independent commission, made up of 22 lawyers, doctors, historians, sociologists and theologians, worked for two-and-a-half years, listening to victims and witnesses and studying church, court, police and press archives starting from the 1950s.
A hotline launched at the beginning of the probe received 6,500 calls from alleged victims or people who said they knew a victim.
‘The consequences are very serious,’ Sauvé said. ‘About 60 per cent of men and women who were sexually abused encounter major problems in their sentimental or sexual life.’
The 2,500-page document comes as the Catholic Church in France, like in other countries, seeks to face up to shameful secrets that were long covered up and follows widespread outrage over a string of paedophilia claims and prosecutions against Church officials worldwide.
Véronique Margron, President of the Conference of Religious People of France and a nun, spoke of ‘crimes against humanity’.
‘Can we deal with this disaster?’ asked Sister Margron, who said sexual abuse in the Church amounted to ‘crimes against humanity’.
She added: ‘How do we overcome this? I do not know. We have not even finished reviewing everything.’
It is estimated that about 3,000 perpetrators have committed acts over the past 70 years and about 80 per cent of victims are male. Pictured: Olivier Savignac,head of victims association ‘Parler et Revivre’ (Speak out and Live again) speaks during an interview on Monday
Olivier Savignac, head of victims association ‘Parler et Revivre’ (Speak out and Live again), who contributed to the probe, told The Associated Press that the high ratio of victims per abuser is particularly ‘terrifying for French society, for the Catholic Church.’
He added that the report ‘will have the effect of a bomb’.
Sauvé denounced the church’s attitude until the beginning of the 2000s as ‘a deep, cruel indifference toward victims.’
They were ‘not believed or not heard’ and sometimes suspected of being ‘in part responsible’ for what happened, he deplored.
Sauvé 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 recognize and compensate victims, Sauvé said.
The report comes after a scandal surrounding now-defrocked priest Bernard Preynat rocked the French Catholic Church. Last year, Preynat was convicted of sexually abusing minors and given a five-year prison sentence. He acknowledged abusing more than 75 boys for decades.
One of Preynat’s victims, Francois Devaux, head of the victims group La Parole Libérée (‘The Liberated Word’), told The Associated Press that ‘with this report, the French church for the first time is going to the root of this systemic problem. The deviant institution must reform itself.’
He said the number of victims the report identifies is ‘a minimum.’
The commission that compiled the report urged compensation for victims and strong action from the church, saying the abuse was covered up for decades by a ‘veil of silence.’ Pictured: Francois Devaux, founder of victim association ‘La parole liberee’
‘Some victims did not dare to speak out or trust the commission,’ he said, expressing concerns that the church in France still ‘hasn´t understood’ and has sought to minimize its responsibilities.
The church must not only acknowledge events but also compensate victims, Devaux said. ‘It is indispensable that the church redresses the harm caused by all these crimes, and (financial) compensation is the first step.’
The Preynat case led to the resignation last year of the former archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who has been accused of failing to report the abuses to civil authorities when he learned about them in the 2010s. France´s highest court ruled earlier this year that Barbarin did not cover up the case.
French archbishops, in a message to parishioners read during Sunday Mass across the country, said the publication of the report is ‘a test of truth and a tough and serious moment.’
‘We will receive and study these conclusions to adapt our actions,’ the message said. ‘The fight against pedophilia concerns all of us … Our support and our prayers will keep going toward all the people who have been abused within the church.’
Pope Francis issued in May 2019 a groundbreaking new church law requiring all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.
In June, Francis swiftly rejected an offer from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of Germany’s most prominent clerics and a close papal adviser, to resign as archbishop of Munich and Freising over the church´s mishandling of abuse cases.
But he said a process of reform was necessary and every bishop must take responsibility for the ‘catastrophe’ of the crisis.