The Roman Catholic Church in France has said it is ready to sell assets, including property, to compensate thousands of victims of child sexual abuse. They also said they would not ask for money from church members. The announcement came after a report last month revealed what it called a massive crime committed by priests and other church officials that had been covered up for decades.
The clergy meeting at the Lourdes shrine recognized their Church's "institutional responsibility" and decided to "go down the path of recognition and reparation," French Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said, Reuters news agency reported.
The bishops will set up a fund "financed to the extent necessary through divestment of real estate and other assets", de Moulins-Beaufort, archbishop of Reims and head of the French Bishops conference, told reporters. "If needed, we are also ready to borrow money to fulfill our obligations," he added at the end of the meeting. The bishop did not specify the amount of funds to be awarded or the property to be sold. Several clergymen were seen kneeling begging for forgiveness during the weekend-long gathering in Lourdes.
De Moulins-Beaufort said the bishops also decided to ask the Pope to send a special envoy to oversee the handling of any abuse cases. 'Shameful moment' A report published last October found that the French church had shown "a deep, total and even cruel disregard for years," protecting itself rather than the victims of systemic abuse.
At the time, Pope Francis called the findings - the latest revelations to rock the Roman Catholic Church following a string of sexual abuse scandals around the world - "a shameful moment". The report, the result of an independent commission commissioned by the French Catholic Church in 2018, found that thousands of pedophiles had operated within the French Catholic Church since 1950. Commission leader Jean-Marc Sauve told French media they had found evidence of 2,900 to 3,200 perpetrators - out of a total of 115,000 priests and other clergy.
"That is a minimal estimate," he added. This 2,500-page report is based on church, court, and police archives; and interviews with victims. Sauve, a senior civil servant, told French newspaper Le Monde that the panel had submitted evidence to prosecutors in 22 cases where criminal charges could still be filed. He added that bishops and other senior church officials had been notified of other allegations against the living. Members of the commission included doctors, historians, sociologists and theologians. More than 6,500 victims and witnesses have been contacted over the past two and a half years.
Christopher Lamb, of the Roman Catholic publication The Tablet, told the BBC that the abuse scandal had plunged the Church into its "biggest crisis in ... 500 years." Earlier this year Pope Francis changed Catholic Church laws to explicitly criminalize sexual harassment, his biggest overhaul of the penal code in decades. The new rules state sexual harassment, approaching minors (to be abused later), harboring child pornography, and covering up abuse cases as a violation of Canon Law.