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Jean-Marc Sauve
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Commission president Jean-Marc Sauve (Thomas Coex/AP)

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Report sheds light on 70 years of child sexual abuse within France's Church

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Paris: An estimated 330,000 children were victims of sexual abuse within France's Catholic Church over the past 70 years, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The commission which issued the report worked for two and a half years, listening to victims and witnesses and studying church, court, police, and press archives starting from the 1950s. A hotline launched at the beginning of the probe received 6,500 calls from alleged victims or people who said they knew a victim.

News agency Associated Press quoted Jean-Marc Sauve, the president of the commission as saying that the estimate, based on scientific research, includes abuses committed by priests and other clerics as well as by non-religious people involved in the church. He said about 80 percent are male victims.

According to Sauve about 60% of men and women who were sexually abused encounter major problems in their sentimental or sexual life. The 2,500-page document prepared by an independent commission comes as the Catholic Church in France, like in other countries, seeks to face up to shameful secrets that were long covered up.

Sauv denounced the church's attitude until the beginning of the 2000s as a deep, cruel indifference toward victims. They were not believed or not heard and sometimes suspected of being in part responsible for what happened, he deplored.

Sauv added 22 alleged crimes that can still be pursued have been forwarded to prosecutors. More than 40 cases that are too old to be prosecuted but involve alleged perpetrators who are still alive have been forwarded to church officials, he said.

The commission issued 45 recommendations about how to prevent abuse. These included training priests and other clerics, revising Canon Law, the legal code the Vatican uses to govern the church, and fostering policies to recognize and compensate victims, Sauv said.

The report comes after a scandal surrounding now-defrocked priest Bernard Preynat rocked the French Catholic Church. Last year, Preynat was convicted of sexually abusing minors and given a five-year prison sentence. He acknowledged abusing more than 75 boys for decades

Olivier Savignac, head of victims association Parler et Revivre (Speakout and Live again), who contributed to the probe, told The Associated Press that the high ratio of victims per abuser is particularly terrifying for French society, for the Catholic Church."

French archbishops, in a message to parishioners read during Sunday Mass across the country, said the publication of the report is a test of truth and a tough and serious moment. We will receive and study these conclusions to adapt our actions, the message said.

"The fight against paedophilia concerns all of us ... Our support and our prayers will keep going toward all the people who have been abused within the church." the message added.

Pope Francis had issued in May 2019 a groundbreaking new church law requiring all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.

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TAGS:Child Sex Abuse Church Sex Abuse France 
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