The Holy Father gave the only possible response to the independent inquiry on child sex abuse within the French Catholic Church over 70 years: “shame”. It found some 216,000 children and teenagers – the vast majority boys – have been sexually abused by clergy since the 1950s, with the number perhaps rising to 330,000 if abuse by laypeople is included. It is, was, a mass violation of trust.
The one consolation for the French church is that it commissioned the report itself and gave it a chairman of complete integrity, a senior civil servant, Jean-Marc Sauvé; the report took two and a half years to complete. Some findings are particularly troubling, notably that there were individual predators who accounted for more than 150 victims each. Is it conceivable that these men were not known as a danger to the young? Yet they were left to violate them unhindered.
Bringing the living offenders to justice is necessary. Yet the French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin now says the seal of the confessional does not absolve priests from the necessity to disclose crimes against minors to prosecutors.
This is the wrong response. A priest cannot disclose what is said to him in confession, but he can vigorously encourage a penitent to confess his offences to the authorities.
A Church culture where offences are routinely investigated is a better means to prevent similar scandals than attempting to subvert the seal of the confessional.
This article first appeared in the November 2021 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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