2,500-page landmark report was released on Tuesday October 5, after more than two years of investigations by an independent commission. The commission found that an estimated 330,000 children were victims of sex abuse within France’s Catholic Church between 1950 to 2020, with an estimated 216,000 minors abused by priests and other clerics.
Reacting to the damning report, the pontiff expressed his ‘sadness’ for the victims as it emerged that nuns used crucifixes to rape girls during decades of abuse which was covered up by a ‘veil of silence’.
‘There is, unfortunately, a considerable number I wish to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma they have suffered,’ Francis said during his weekly audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.
‘And also my shame, our shame, my shame, for the inability of the Church for too long to put them at the centre of its concerns.
‘I pray and we all pray together – to you Lord the glory, to us the shame. This is the time for shame.’
He called on all bishops and religious superiors to take all actions necessary ‘so similar dramas are not repeated.’
The findings of the inquiry have prompted outrage as the Catholic Church in France and around the world faces a growing number of abuse claims and prosecutions.
Dealing with the avalanche of revelations about sexual abuse by clergy was one of the biggest challenges that Francis faced when he was elected pope in 2013.
He declared an end to impunity and changed Vatican law to make reporting abuse mandatory, but victims have warned it is not enough.
Francis expressed his sorrow for the victims in a statement Tuesday issued through his spokesman, but his comments on Wednesday went further.
He urged the clergy to keep working to ensure such situations ‘are not repeated’, offering his support to French priests to face up to ‘this trial that is hard but healthy’. He also invited French Catholics to ‘assume their responsibilities to ensure that the Church is a safe home for all’.
The report found that the ‘vast majority’ of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a variety of social backgrounds. Their abusers were mainly priests, bishops, deacons and monks.
Eighty per cent of victims were young boys between the ages of 10 and 13, however many girls also suffered abuse, not only by priests but also by nuns.
A victim named ‘Marie’ testified that she was abused as an 11-year-old and that when she complained about the abuse to her parents they refused to believe a nun could do such a thing. The abuse continued for another year.
She recalls a nun who would choose a student from her class every day to help her with Mass.
‘I was 11 and looked 9. She would choose me once every two or three times,’ ‘Marie’ recalls.
‘She would take me to her office, lock the door, and then draw the curtains. After which she would put me on her knees to make me read the gospel according to Saint Paul or another saint, while she squeezed me with one hand to her chest and pulled down my panties with the other hand.
‘We were of course in pleated skirts and not in pants. It terrified me and paralyzed. I was truly [a gift] for this nun… because she knew full well that she did not risk anything,’ Marie said.
‘Until the early 2000s, the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims,’ commission chief Jean-Marc Sauve told a press conference that unveiled the nearly 2,500-page report.
They were ‘not believed or not heard’ and sometimes suspected of being ‘in part responsible’ for what happened, he deplored.