France’s bishops will on Monday set out their plans to compensate victims of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy in a scandal that stretches back decades.
The 120 members of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF) meeting at the Catholic shrine of Lourdes will decide what measures to take after several days considering the issue.
The vote, which will take place behind closed doors, comes a month after a devastating independent report confirmed massive levels of child sexual abuse by priests dating as far back as the 1950s.
The report described what it called the “veil of silence” the Church cast over the offences and said that over the decades, 216,000 minors suffered sexual abuse by priests.
On Friday, France’s bishops for the first time formally recognised that the Church bore an “institutional responsibility” for the abuse.
Senior members of the clergy knelt and prayed on Saturday in a show of penance which, while welcomed by some victims of abuse, was dismissed by others as an empty gesture.
Campaigners are pressing for details of how the Church proposes to compensate the victims. They also want to know what reforms will be carried out to make sure the abuse never happens again.
A ‘concrete’ response
The independent committee that produced last month’s report made 45 recommendations for the Church.
Monday’s response will be the “concrete translation” of those recommendations, Luc Crepy, the bishop of Versailles and the president of the CEP committee overseeing the issue, told journalists Sunday.
During the CEF annual conference at Lourdes, bishops have considered issues including financial compensation for the victims, changes to the training of the clergy, proper oversight inside the Church and questions of doctrine.
Compensation is something the Church in France should be able to put in place relatively quickly, and the CEF has already promised that the first payments will be made in 2022.
CEF spokesman Hugues de Woillemont has said that all claims will be considered, regardless of whether the cases are beyond the criminal statute of limitations.
The Church has already announced the creation of an independent body to handle these cases, and its chairperson is due to be announced Monday.
Other issues, however, may have be decided further up the Church hierarchy.
Questions of doctrine still appeared to be a problem last month when the government summoned the Archbishop of Rheims, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort.
He had provoked anger by saying that priests were not obliged to report sexual abuse if they heard about it during an act of confession, and was forced to walk back his comments.
Protecting children from sexual abuse is an “absolute priority” for the Catholic Church, said the archbishop after meeting Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin — at the request of President Emmanuel Macron.