French Catholic bishops kicked off their annual conference on Tuesday, about to spill over a shock report last month that detailed the massive abuse of children of 216,000 minors over 70 years.
The 120 bishops from all over France will devote nearly half of their one-week meeting to “the fight against violence and sexual assault directed against minors,” according to the published agenda.
Some victims were invited to join the meeting, but many refused, denouncing the decision to make the sexual abuse scandal one of many topics – rather than the only item on the agenda.
The gathering, which began with a period of silence to honor the victims, takes place in the southern city of Lourdes, considered by the Catholic Church to be a holy place and one of the main pilgrimage destinations in the world.
Ahead of the conference, the bishops said they would consider the issue of the church’s institutional accountability for mass abuse, as well as a mechanism to compensate victims.
The meeting was extended by one day to allow more time for the study of the report.
On October 5, an independent commission released findings that detailed about 3,000 predators among the clergy who sexually assaulted 216,000 minors from 1950 to 2020, a “massive phenomenon” that had been covered for decades by a “veil of silence. “.
The nearly 2,500-page report found that the “vast majority” of the victims were pre-teen boys from various social backgrounds.
Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) which co-commissioned the report, expressed his “shame and horror” at the findings, while Pope Francis said that he felt “a great sadness”.
Jean-Luc Souveton, a priest victim of sexual abuse, said he would attend both a plenary session and a special session devoted to abuse, in the hope of making the bishops understand why more victims are not were not presented.
“I do not represent those who remain on the sidelines, but I want to make their presence felt, if only to say why they did not come,” he told AFP.
In last month’s report, the independent commission recommended that the church accept civil and social responsibility for the abuse, separate from the individual responsibility of the abusers.
He also said financial compensation should be calculated for each individual case based on the severity of the abuse suffered, instead of making lump sum payments.
The money should be taken from the personal property of the attackers or from the church, he said, advising against any appeal for donations from the Catholic faithful.
Several of the items under discussion will be put to a vote at the end of the conference.