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ROME – Next month members of the independent commission that published a searing report into clerical sexual abuse in France will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss the issue and carve out a way forward.
Speaking to French radio station Radio chrétienne France (RcF), Jean-Marc Sauvé said he believes that during the meeting, “we must give an account to the Holy Father in a nutshell of what is essential for us: what the sexual abuses in the Church against French society were, and also what were the causes that allowed them.”
This question, he said, is now “at the center of the Church’s attention.”
Sauvé spoke on the margins of assembly of the Conference of Religious men and women in France, where on Thursday he participated in a roundtable discussion on the topic of, “Responsible for the future.”
He is president of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), which published the report on abuse in the French Catholic Church. The report, released Oct. 5, came on the heels of a 4-year investigation.
According to the report, an estimated 216,000 children were abused by clergy since 1950, and more than 100,000 others were abused by lay employees of church institutions, such as Scout leaders and camp counselors, among others.
Investigators also found evidence that between 2,900 and 3,200 abusive priests out of a total of about 115,000 had served in France since 1950.
It follows other, similar reports published in other countries, including Germany, Ireland, and the United States.
Although France is traditionally a Catholic country, it has adopted a strict secularism in public life based on a 1905 law which separates church and state.
A month after the report’s release, the French bishops met in Lourdes from Nov. 2-8 for their fall assembly, where they voted on a series of initiatives to fight and manage the abuse crisis.
Among other things, they agreed to financially compensate sex abuse victims, though offered no immediate details about the amount of compensation to be given and how the Church would make these payments.
On that occasion, Conference President Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said the Church has recognized its “institutional responsibility” and decided to go “on a path of recognition and reparation that paves the way for victims to get the possibility of a mediation and a compensation.”
“We felt disgust and horror inside us when we realized how much suffering so many people had lived and were still living,” he said.
Sauvé originally announced plans to visit Rome to meet with Pope Francis regarding the CIASE report several weeks ago at the hearing of the National Assembly Law Commission.
Speaking of the upcoming meeting to RcF, Sauvé said that among the various proposals his commission is suggesting, “there are some that concern the Bishops’ Conference, others that concern religious institutes and congregations, but there are also measures that directly concern the pope and the Holy See.”
“The visit to Rome will allow us to underline a series of issues that undoubtedly concern the pope,” he said.
Sauvé praised the French bishops conference and country’s Conference of Religious in France, particularly when it comes to compensating victims, saying, “the first measures taken by the plenary assembly of bishops in Lourdes following the report of the commission I chaired were very well received on our part.”
“The decisions taken, and the words spoken by Moulins-Beaufort and his peers to recognize the institutional responsibility of the Catholic Church, the systemic character of the abuses, and the need to do justice, and to repair the damage done to the victims, correspond exactly to the recommendations we have formulated,” he said.
Sauvé insisted that these are “founding measures that open a new page in the history of the Church” and which “will certainly bear fruit in the months and years to come.”
Speaking on a personal level about problem of clerical sexual abuse and the inquiry his commission conducted, Sauvé said “this subject will not leave me. It will live with me for the rest of my life.”
However, he insisted that “as a Catholic I believe I have done my part, and it is not for me personally to get involved in the process, implementing recommendations and evaluating the work that the Catholic Church is doing or will do.”
Arguing in favor of a regular change in personnel, Sauvé said that “in our report we have argued a lot in favor of the development of the separation of powers,” insisting that in going forward, “it should not be that at all times, and on the same topics, there are always the same people.”
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