ROME – After months of discussions and reflections, the French Bishops’ Conference decided to create an independent and external commission to address sexual abuse within the Church, its cover-up and the conference’s handling of the issue since the 2000s.
“The bishops of France decided to set up an independent commission to throw light on the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church since 1950 to understand the reasons that favored the way in which these cases were handled and to make recommendations,” said Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, President of the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) on Nov. 7.
Pontier’s statement came at the conclusion of the bishop’s plenary assembly in Lourdes, which approved on Nov. 7 the creation of the commission and admitted to awarding a financial gesture to the victims. During the summit, the French bishops met with clerical sex abuse victims.
“This meeting between the victims and the bishops has confirmed for us all, victims and bishops, the need to work together better in this fight,” Pontier said.
The commission also promises to look into the handling of sexual abuse by CEF since the 2000s and to consider historic cases where the victims or the culprit might already be dead.
The archbishops said that a report will be issued by the commission within 18 months or two years. The names of the members and head of the commission have not yet been released, but the archbishops said more information will soon be disclosed.
France has also been involved in the clerical sexual abuse scandals that have threatened the Catholic Church’s credibility worldwide. In January, French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon will stand trial for allegedly covering up the sexual abuse of boy scouts by a pedophile priest in the 1980s.
As pressure grows in France, and across the globe, for the Church to bring forward practical solutions to the crisis, Pontier promised that “specifies steps” will be made to address the issue.
The French bishops “want to involve victims in the implementation of the following and related decisions. They also want to work with members of civil society on these topics,” the archbishop said, adding that projects will bring the agenda forward until the next CEF assembly in Spring 2019.
Bishops are invited, Pointier said, to rekindle conversations with victims to explain the newest developments and to make a “memory effort” to collect as much information as possible on the issue.
“The bishops wish to work with the victims to see how to make sure that our history doesn’t forget those acts that have left too many people to die,” he said.
The archbishop also stated that a “precise report” will be released regularly by the Permanent Commission on the state of the fight against pedophilia within the Church. “Prevention” was the key word marking the end of the statement and calling for actions before instances of abuse occur by doing sensitization campaigns in parishes.
“The bishops wish to offer a financial gesture to the victims,” Pontier said, avoiding the use of the term “compensation” that had circled the summit of French bishops. No further detail concerning amounts or beneficiaries was given.
The archbishop concluded by stating that pedophile or abuser priests will be accompanied by the Church by new measures that will be put in place.
The result of the gathering of the French bishops comes as other bishop conferences prepare to gather. Next week, the Italian bishops will convene for an extraordinary assembly, expected to release new guidelines on sexual abuse at Pope Francis’s behest, just as U.S. bishops prepare to convene for a meeting where, no doubt, sexual abuse will be a priority on the agenda.