PARIS (AP) — Victims of abuse within France’s Catholic Church welcomed a historic turning point Tuesday after a new report estimated that 330,000 children in France were sexually abused over the past 70 years, providing the country’s first accounting of the worldwide phenomenon.
The figure includes abuses committed by some 3,000 priests and an unknown number of other people involved in the church — wrongdoing that Catholic authorities covered up over decades in a “systemic manner,” according to the president of the commission that issued the report, Jean-Marc Sauvé.
The 2,500-page document was issued as the Catholic Church in France, like in other countries, seeks to face up to shameful secrets that were long covered up. Victims welcomed the report as long overdue and the head of the French bishops’ conference asked for forgiveness from them.
The report said the tally of 330,000 victims includes an estimated 216,000 people abused by priests and other clerics, and the rest by church figures such as scout leaders or camp counselors. The estimates are based on a broader research by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research into sexual abuse of children in the country.
The study’s authors estimate 80% of the church’s victims were boys, while the broader study of sexual abuse found that 75% of the overall victims were girls.
The independent commission urged the church to take strong action, denouncing its “faults” and “silence.” It also called on the Catholic Church to help compensate the victims, notably in cases that are too old to prosecute via French courts.
“We consider the church has a debt towards victims,” Sauvé said.
Francois Devaux, head of the victims’ group La Parole Libérée (The Liberated Word), said it was “a turning point in our history.” He denounced the coverups that permitted “mass crimes for decades.”
“But even worse, there was a betrayal: betrayal of trust, betrayal of morality, betrayal of children, betrayal of innocence,” he added.