“I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered,” His Holiness said.
During his weekly audience at the Vatican on Wednesday, Pope Francis said he is “shamed” by the Catholic church’s failure to prevent pedophile priests in France, after a landmark report on Tuesday that revealed the French clergy sexually abused at least 330,000 children in the past 70 years.
“There is, unfortunately, a considerable number,” said the pontiff. “I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered. It is also my shame, our shame, for the incapacity of the church for too long to put them at the center of its concerns.”
Following the counsel of his closest advisers to investigate the transgression, Pope Francis urged all bishops to take action to assure that “similar dramas are not repeated” while calling on Catholics residing in France to strive to ensure that the church environment is “a safe place for all.”
According to the report that covered a two-and-a-half-year independent inquiry into France’s Catholic church system, an estimated 216,000 children were victims of sexual violence by French Catholic priests, deacons, and other clergy members from 1950 to 2020. If counting the cases involving lay members of the Church, such as teachers and catechism supervisors, the number soared to at least 330,000 children subjected to sexual abuse in the same period.
The report claimed that the “vast majority” of the victims were young boys and that the crimes were “systematically” covered up by an intentional “veil of silence” within the church body.
François Devaux, founder of the victims’ association La Parole Libérée, told church representatives during the report’s public presentation that they “must pay for all these crimes.”
“You are a disgrace to our humanity … In this hell there have been abominable mass crimes … but there has been even worse, betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children,” Devaux continued.
Following the release of the report, the Vatican issued a statement that expressed Pope Francis’ “great sorrow” and gratitude to the victims who displayed courage for denouncing what they went through.
“(His thoughts go to) the Church of France, so that, in the awareness of this terrible reality … it may embark on a path of redemption,” the statement added.
Art Daniella Sison