Proposals after the French inquiry into abuse
The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) presented its report on October 5, 2021, to Véronique Margron, president of the Conference of Religious Men and Women of France (CORREF), and Monsignor Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF). It is estimated that the clergy or religious, in France, have abused 216 thousand people since 1950.
How did you receive the CIASE report?
I feel immense gratitude for the work of the women and men who make up this committee. I have been able to see that these are wonderful people who have given their time without reservation, and been as rigorous as possible in their discipline. They have all been very tried by this work and from listening to the victims, to what they have suffered, but also to the shortcomings of the institutions that have not protected or listened to them. I also express gratitude for the decision of the CEF and the CORREF to create the Commission chaired by Jean-Marc Sauvé who was responsible for bringing the report into being. The CIASE report is probably one of the best investigations at the national level, because it not only compares numerous scientific sources but also gives a decisive place to the victims’ testimony. Nevertheless, at the same time, I feel a very deep pain. It is a strange and paradoxical feeling, this mixture of gratitude mixed with pain. Of pain and shame in the face of what appears to be the inability of institutions to confront their worst, even though they have existed over the centuries and we thought we were proud of them. This weakness, indeed this failure, reveals abysmal problems.
Exactly, where should be begin?
The report is very long and presents 45 recommendations. Therefore, we need to plan properly. We need to establish an agenda that does not mean rejecting things but organizing them, seeing what needs to be done in the short and medium term; what is part of the cultural change and what needs to be examined with the people of God, because hierarchical decisions not followed by the people of God would not bear fruit. In my opinion, listening to the victims remains a priority. Not all of them have testified yet, and some of them discovered the existence of the CIASE on October 5, and not before. In the week following the publication of the report, the CIASE received 200 e-mails, and I received about forty. It is therefore necessary that there be constant, neutral and professional listening. There also needs to be church “shifts” when these people want to contact a person from the church - which is not always the case. After the report was published, a hotline for reporting sexual abuse in the Church was activated, with independent professionals. If they wish, victims can be put in touch with a special number or email address at CEF or CORREF.
There is also the issue of compensation.
The second urgent need of all will be the creation of independent commissions to receive all the people who are victims of abuse who want to be contacted and the establishment of mediations. If they ask for a mode of reparation, the commission’s task will be to come as close as possible to each person’s request and to ensure mediation at the religious institution involved. This request can be for financial compensation, access to the archives, to know if there have been other victims, or a willingness to reach out to the young religious in formation. In any case, it is a matter of recognizing the crime suffered by the victim and taking their words seriously. Of trying, ultimately, to be as close as possible to the individual, since trauma is always experienced individually. We know that this does not always correlate with what would be the response under the criminal law. The repercussions of the harm done to people’s lives and the long-term effects of the harm suffered are individual tragedies that need to be responded to.
Why is the publication of this report a turning point?
October 5 was a historic moment for the Church. I venture to think that for all of us there will be a before and an after that date. I particularly hope that we will never again think that we can be judge and jury. Independence is a fundamental fact. The same goes for the listening groups. There has been several victims who have been contacted, but did not want to use them; in fact, although they are composed of professionals, people judge them as being too close to the institutions or dioceses involved. Trust needs time and requires detachment. This October 5 was also decisive because that morning was an upheaval in the face of the Gospel: it was men outside the institution, the words of the victims, and the president of the Commission Jean Marc Sauvé, who told the truth to the Church about its darkest side. Our Church, which intends - in the good sense of the term - to tell the truth, not only about faith, but also very often about the human, has heard its truth - at any rate something approaching it - told by others.
The report shows that there was also abuse in the family, in sports. Is there a specificity about the abuse that has occurred in the Church?
Yes, and no. Some psychologists say that sexual assault committed in the Church can be termed neo-incest. The Church is experienced as a family; priests are fathers and religious sisters, sometimes even mothers. The intimacy of the aggression is played out on the mixture of fear and affection, and the abuse of authority is very close to what we see in incest. The aggressor’s strategy is often similar: he tries to continue his aggressions forcing the victim to silence with blackmail based on fear and affection, playing on the fact that the family, like the Church, does not want scandals. The specificity consists in the fact that the family is a small world while the Church is a very organized world. Thus, the strategy of the aggressors has contaminated all the institutions so that none of them would react, as they should, with the corollary of the aggravating circumstance of clericalism, a problematic relationship with secrecy, and especially with reference to the sacred. To refer to the sacred means to say that there is no law that is imposed on me, on us. This is also part of the strategy of the aggressor. And of the institution that attacks in turn.
In which way?
It is harder for children from very religious backgrounds to speak up, as they feel they are betraying their parents even more. It is made even worse when abusers, in church settings, claim it is God’s will.
The relationship to purity also plays a role, and some abusers in the Church have played into this by establishing criteria for the relationship to remain in the realm of the “pure”.
This is chilling. The relationship to purity is as much an anthropological issue as it is a biblical one. Ever since Genesis it has been about moving from the pure to the holy. The relationship with purity is something very archaic in us, which has nothing to do with ethics. Moreover, when it is corroborated by an underhanded religious discourse, then people feel inhibited. It is not even a question of making a façade like discourse on chastity, if one does not question the reality in depth, that of sexuality as such, even of violence and abuse. From the very beginning, the Bible calls things as they are: day is day, night is night, and murder is a crime. We must call things by their name.
By Marie-Lucile Kubacki
A Journalist at “La Vie” in Rome