An investigation into paedophile priests in France reveals an institution in desperate need of reform
The findings of an inquiry into sexual abuse and paedophilia in the French Catholic church, published last week, are difficult to read and painful to contemplate. Over the past 70 years, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church found that at least 216,000 children were subjected to abuse at the hands of Catholic priests and members of religious orders. Sexual exploitation within the church and associated institutions, the commission stated, had been a “massive phenomenon”. Beyond immediate family and friends, the prevalence of sexual violence in the church outstripped that in any other social environment.
These conclusions represent, as Pope Francis rightly acknowledged, “a moment of shame” for the Catholic church. They should also be the catalyst for far-reaching reform of its practice and culture. The French report is only the latest in a dismal, heart-rending sequence. Last year, an investigation found that the Catholic church in England and Wales had failed to adequately deal with sexual abuse perpetrated over decades by clergy and others associated with the church. It had, the report’s authors stated, prioritised its own reputation over the welfare of abuse victims. Other investigations have reached similarly damning conclusions in the United States, Ireland, Germany, Chile, Australia and Poland.