The head of an independent commission to investigate child sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church said around 3,000 pedophiles had operated inside the institution since 1950.
A few days before the publication of his report, Jean-Marc Sauvé said the commission’s investigations had discovered between 2,900 and 3,200 pedophile priests or other church members, adding that it was “an estimate minimum ”.
Sauvé told Agence-France Presse that the 2,500-page report, based on church, judicial and police records as well as witness interviews and due for release on Tuesday, attempted to quantify both the number of offenders and victims.
He also looked at “the mechanisms, especially institutional and cultural” within the church that allowed pedophiles to stay, and will come up with 45 proposals, he said.
The commission, made up of 22 jurists, doctors, historians, sociologists and theologians, was set up in 2018 after Pope Francis passed a landmark measure requiring people with knowledge of abuses in the church to report it to their superiors. .
A hotline set up in June 2019 for French victims and witnesses received 6,500 calls in its first 17 months of operation, but prompted many survivors to question whether French prosecutors would really be willing and able to press charges. .
Philippe Portier, sociologist of the commission, promised that the report “would not be easy for anyone”, while Olivier Savignac of the victims association Parler et Revivre, (Speak and Revivre), declared that he “would have the ‘bomb effect’. .
Bishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the conference of bishops of France, told a meeting of parishioners that he feared the report would reveal “important and frightening figures” and church authorities warned that the publication would be “a hard and serious moment” calling for “an attitude of truth and compassion”.
However, it is not clear what action the church will take against violators, and in many cases prosecution could be unlikely because the abuse took place beyond French statutes of limitations.
Last year, a defrocked French Catholic priest Bernard Preynat, 75, was sentenced to five years in prison for sexually abusing scouts aged seven to 14 in his custody between 1971 and 1991, following allegations that his superior had covered up.
After being denounced for the first time in 1991, the priest was prevented from leading scout groups, but was later allowed to teach children and held positions of authority in parishes until the scandal. be made public in 2015.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, was sentenced in 2019 to six months suspended prison sentence for not having denounced the crimes of Preynat.
However, in January last year, an appeals court overturned the conviction, saying that although Barbarin should have informed authorities, he was not criminally responsible for his inaction. Pope Francis then accepted Barbarin’s resignation.
Agence-France Presse contributed to this report