The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church said it is a “minimum estimate” and warns that there could be up to 10,000 victims.
According to the conclusions of the investigation carried out by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase), between 2,900 and 3,200 priests and clergy members of the Catholic Church in France have committed sexual abuse against minors since 1950.
The 2,500-page document is based on information from church, judicial and police archives regarding sexual abuse.
The president of Ciase, Jean-Marc Sauvé, said that it is a “minimum estimate”, because the Commission warns that there could be up to 10,000 victims.
“It is an important step but it is not the end of the story, both for the Catholic church and for the rest of society”, Sauvé said, as quoted by news agency France 24.
He stressed that “at the end of this extensive work we cannot claim to have the whole truth. More work is needed to deepen our knowledge of paedocriminality. But we have enough truth to speak with confidence and legitimacy”.
Sauvé also pointed out that, of those found guilty, “two thirds are diocesan priests”. On the other hand, the founder of the association La Parole Libérée (The Liberated Word), François Devaux, said that “we are beginning to realise that the extent [of the issue] is massive”.
The Commission received 6,500 testimonies from victims and conducted up to 250 personal interviews. Furthermore, “we asked the bishops and superiors to convey our desire to listen to the abusers. In the end, 11 of them agreed to be interviewed”, explained Sauvé.
They have also forwarded 22 cases to the public prosecutor's office for acts that were not time-barred and has informed bishops and senior officials of the Catholic church about more than 40 abuses in which the offenders are still alive.
Composed by 22 professionals in law, medicine, history, sociology and theology, the Commission seeks to highlight “especially, the institutional and cultural mechanisms”, that have allowed the systematic practice of sexual abuse within the Catholic church in France for more than 70 years.
They have also given a series of answers and proposals, which address issues such as listening to victims, prevention, the training of the priests canon law or even the transformation of the ecclesiastical institution.
The French Bishops' Conference will set up “a system of contributions” as financial compensation to victims from 2022, Vatican News has reported.
The Ciase report comes out in France three years after Pope Francis published a letter acknowledging the “pain of the victims” of sexual abuse and calling for “solidarity and commitment to a culture of protection and 'never again' to any type and form of abuse” .
The French Bishops' Conference then said it was ”ashamed” of ”the atrocious acts” and pledged the ”relentless persecution of any abuse”. That same year, 120 bishops met in Lourdes, along with seven victims of sexual abuse, and approved the creation of the Commission that now publishes the report.
There has been similar investigations into the impact of paedophilia at the national level in other countries in recent years.
In Australia, tens of thousands of children have been abused since 1920; Germany reported that more than 3,600 children have been victims in the last seven decades; while in Spain, abuse by different religious orders, such as the Jesuits, has also come to light.