A priest carries a cross during the annual procession of the Station of the Cross on Good Friday preceding Easter Celebrations at the Catholic Church of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Paris, France April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Damning report reveals scope of Catholic church abuse in France
02:13 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Father Edward L. Beck, CP, is a Roman Catholic priest and a religion commentator for CNN. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

The faithful of the Catholic Church in France – and indeed worldwide – are reeling from a commission’s report documenting that between 2,900 and 3,200 church workers have abused more than 200,000 minors over a 70-year span. Upon hearing the news, a parishioner of mine asked, “Father, is this abuse stuff starting all over again?” Gratefully, I was able to say, no, however, the continued reckoning of the Catholic Church and other institutions continues because of years of denial and cover-up. Yes, things have changed, but change has been too long in coming.

Father Edward Beck

The issues and facts beneath the headlines are important. The total number of clergy and church workers implicated in the French report constitutes approximately 3% of the approximately 115,000 clergy since the 1950s. The vast majority of those implicated are dead or the statutes of limitations for prosecution have run out.

According to Jean-Marc Sauvé, the president of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) which authored the report, only 22 of the cases in the report have been sent to prosecutors because the statute of limitations hadn’t run out. And about 40 cases where the suspect is still alive but the alleged crimes are too old to be prosecuted have been sent to church officials. That matters because it could demonstrate that the existence of active pedophiles in the Church has drastically decreased since the late 1960s and 70s.

While these horrendous reports keep trickling out, it’s important to note that much has been done to assure reform in the Catholic Church. In 2002, in the United States, the landmark Dallas Charter (The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People) instituted a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. It guaranteed a zero-tolerance policy with regard to abusers.

In 2019, the Diocese of Paris signed a yearlong agreement with the city prosecutor to permit alleged abuse to be investigated without victims making an official complaint to the civil authorities. That same year, Pope Francis mandated that all dioceses set up systems for reporting abuse and cover-ups, the first worldwide edict of its kind.

Despite these reforms, the revelations about sexual abuse have been devastating for victims and for the Church. Each new report rips the bandage off an unforgivable wound once again. When a laceration is not properly tended to at the time of infection, it festers and continues to poison surrounding tissue until a healing balm is finally administered.

The Church has taken too long to impart the healing balm of acknowledgment and responsibility to the deep woundedness of victims who for decades have felt ignored and shunted aside. That unction now seems like too little, too late.

While sexual abuse can happen anywhere, when it’s by clergy it elicits such horror because we hold clergy to a higher standard of behavior and trust. As we should. For many clergy serve as mediators of the Divine, as sacramental signs of God’s love.

When crimes against the innocent are perpetuated by those spiritually entrusted to edify and protect the faithful, the damage is all the more devastating and its reverberation is wide and long. We have not yet felt the last of the fallout from years of inaction and stonewalling by the Church.

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When people talk to me about the sex abuse issue in the Church, they are most appalled by the cover-up and denial. As am I. It’s hard to fathom the reasoning. At its heart, I believe the cover-up was about pride and arrogance, a refusal to admit that a sacred institution could also be so flawed and sinful.

The excuse given for not being more transparent was, “We didn’t want to scandalize the faithful.” But in the end, the faithful have been more than scandalized. They have been horrified, angered and deeply hurt. They have felt betrayed.

The victims have been abused all over again, albeit in a different way. The psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse may prove to be as lasting and egregious as the physical.