As soon as the report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (Ciase) was published in October 2021, Acat-France noted that it highlights, with the aim of denouncing it, a system that has allowed situations of mistreatment and serious and massive attacks on the dignity and physical integrity of very many victims (several hundred thousand), some of whom are minors. Violations which amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment constituting violations condemned by international conventions relating to human rights.
The commission emphasizes that deviant systems are not the prerogative of States, that they threaten any collective organization, and calls on Christians to be extremely vigilant in the face of excesses too often covered by impunity. Acat-France was therefore delighted that in November 2021, meeting in assembly in Lourdes, the bishops of France set up nine working groups coordinated by Hervé Balladur, with the proclaimed intention of taking the means to ” to build a more secure Church”.
A “remarkable job”
These nine working groups, to which was added a tenth on the question of memory, mobilized around a hundred people for a year and produced very rich reports containing numerous concrete proposals, attesting to the seriousness with which they took into account the request of the bishops and the missions entrusted to them. The Conference of Bishops of France, meeting in Lourdes from March 28 to 31, 2023, also paid tribute to the “remarkable work of the hundred or so members participating in these groups”.
It could therefore be expected that action would be taken on the recommendations of working group no. 8, which had been given the task of “analyzing” the “causes of sexual violence in the Church”, in that he questioned the systemic nature of the observed abuses, in particular through the far-sighted and lucid analysis of the deleterious effects of “clericalism” and “the asphyxiation of self-segregation”.
An expression of denial?
Nothing came of it: after having saluted “with gratitude the work of group 8”, “the bishops gathered in Assembly” committed themselves “to continuing the reflection on lay ministries”, further asking the “Doctrinal Commission to scrutinize their work against the proposals of working group no. 8”.
Is this absence of opinion, recommendation or decision the expression of a denial? Does it reflect a desire to bury the “remarkable” work of this group and the confirmation of the validity of its analyses? At the very least, by its attitude the Conference demonstrates that its declared desire to “build a more secure Church” can wait.
How to understand this choice, when new facts of sexual violence and abuse committed by Catholic bishops, priests, men and women religious and lay people in the exercise of their responsibilities continue to be revealed almost every week, raising growing indignation believers within the various Christian Churches, but also of civil society which does not understand that justice, dignity, human rights can stop at the doors of the Churches?
This wait-and-see posture is above all a source of despair, suffering and injustice for the victims, whose number is only increasing. Victims with whom Acat-France stands because we are Christians committed against impunity, for the respect and defense of universal rights. Including respect for human dignity in all circumstances, as Pope Francis invites us to do.