The Church of France is resolutely committed to a vast process of reparation for victims of sexual abuse. On November 8, in Lourdes, the bishops of France decided on the concrete modalities of this process. But what will be the price for the Church? Today, the specialists interviewed by La Croix recognize it, the vagueness remains around the total amount of these repairs. From the estimate of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase), which has estimated the number of victims since 1950 at 330,000, they know that this should strongly put the institution to contribution.
In the dioceses, the time has come to examine the accounts: to assess operating reserves but also to take stock of real estate. The slightest saving opportunity is now being scrutinized. During a videoconference, from November 9, Ambroise Laurent, Deputy Secretary General of the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) in charge of economic affairs, brought together all the diocesan treasurers to detail the decisions taken by the bishops and advance several avenues in order to raise the necessary funds.
Who will pay for these repairs?
To launch the reparation process, victims will have to contact the Independent National Authority for Recognition and Reparation (Inirr), chaired by the lawyer specializing in children’s rights Marie Derain de Vaucresson. The process could take several years. The Inirr and the victims will have to establish, on a case-by-case basis, the amount to be paid by the Church.
The body will then turn to the Relief fund and the fight against abuse of minors (Selam fund), headed by the former president of the Scouts and Guides of France Gilles Vermot Desroches. This endowment fund will be almost exclusively matched by the dioceses. To launch the work of Inirr, the CEF wants to be able to count on 20 million euros. But due to the number of victims, this sum will undoubtedly be insufficient. “I see it more as a good start,” says Marie Derain de Vaucresson.
A legal difficulty lies in the statute of the dioceses, which are based on diocesan associations – the Catholic equivalent of the religious associations required by the law of 1905. “Legally, their object” exclusively ”is the financing of worship and are prohibited from interfering in relations between the bishop and his priests, warns a specialist lawyer. The law also prohibits them from financing an endowment fund, because it has an object of general interest in contradiction with their exclusively religious object. “
This constraint does not concern religious congregations, their status leaving them more freedom: each will compensate the abused people within it. To this end, the Conference of Religious of France (Corref) created a commission equivalent to Inirr, headed by magistrate Antoine Garapon, and established a subsidiary endowment fund to replace the disappeared communities.
Is it possible to quantify the amount?
How many victims will resort to Inirr: 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 or 50,000? “It is impossible for us to estimate the number,” recognizes Marie Derain de Vaucresson. Many have expressed their intention not to seek financial redress. The scale establishing the sums due to victims has not yet been decided. “It will cross the damage suffered as well as its effects throughout the life of the abused person”, outlines its president.
In addition, the Selam fund, which brings together its board of directors on Monday, December 6, does not have the sole vocation of financial reparation. “It will also finance prevention and awareness-raising actions on the issue of abuse,” explains Gilles Vermot Desroches. According to information obtained by La Croix, this fund is now endowed with one million euros, including the personal contributions “of a majority of bishops”.
Does the Church have any reserves?
One of the avenues for reflection of the CEF would be to withdraw from the operating reserves of the dioceses. On average, these correspond to the budget of a year, but many diocesan associations do not have so much margin. “Our reserves represent two years, but we need them for the maintenance of our buildings, warns Nicolas Fourest, bursar of the diocese of Cambrai (North). In 2008, for example, church renovations amounted to 13 million euros, or one year of reserves. It is even more today. “
In Alsace-Moselle, still under the concordance regime, the dioceses are not responsible for the maintenance of places of worship built after 1905, which are also state property. This allows them to place their reserves: “We can count on our equity and bond portfolios plus a dedicated fund,” says Jacques Bourrier, diocesan treasurer of Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin). The stock market was up sharply this year and if we sold our shares, only unrealized capital gains would suffice for our contribution. Another solution could also be to sell the real estate assets of the dioceses (see next page).
Are there other sources of funding?
In order to quickly collect the sums necessary for the proper functioning of Inirr without waiting for asset sales, the idea of a loan was put forward by the bishops. “It would then be a bridging loan, a cash loan, which would be reimbursed subsequently with the proceeds of property sales,” says Ambroise Laurent. There is no question of getting into debt. Bishops have also raised the possibility of directing the inheritance of deceased priests and found guilty of sexual abuse to the Selam fund. This is the case in a diocese in northeastern France where the bishop was uncomfortable with the idea of giving the Church the benefit of an inheritance of € 300,000. “It is a possibility, but the diocese should be covered beforehand with the tax administration”, warns a lawyer.
In addition, structures such as the Scouts and Guides of France or Catholic education are considering the possibility of also supplementing the two funds responsible for implementing the process of reparation for victims. Indeed, according to the estimates of Ciase, a third of the abuses on minors in the Church since 1950 would have been committed by the laity. Finally, if for Ciase “the appeal for donations from the faithful appears difficult to reconcile with a restorative compensation approach”, some of them could decide on their own to participate in the fund.