France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex has been received in Rome this Monday by Pope Francis amid shocking revelations of sexual abuse and a “secrecy of confession” controversy that have shaken the French Catholic Church to its core.
Castex’s visit to the Vatican this Monday morning had been overshadowed by reactions following the publication of the conclusions of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase), released at the beginning of October.
The Ciase report’s figures are damning: 216,000 minors have been assaulted by a priests or religious in France since the 1950s.
That figure rises to 330,000 when abuses by lay personel with links to church institutions are included.
After his meeting with Pope Francis, Castex told reporters that the pontiff had said the French church had been “courageous” in dealing with the issue.
“He trusts the church in France to draw conclusions. He is pleased there has been no denial,” the Prime Minister said, adding “he is fully aware of this. It’s a long-term job.”
Castex was accompanied to the Vatican by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian for the visit that officially marked 100 years since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See.
Tackling clerical abuse
Since his election in 2013, the Pope has made the fight against sexual abuse – “Satan’s instrument” – one of the priorities of his pontificate.
Francis has already expressed his “shame” and “pain” following the report.
However the debate also centres on the secrecy of confession, which the president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF), Emmanuel de Moulins-Beaufort, had judged to be “superior to the laws of the Republic“, before backtracking and referring to a “clumsy formulation”.
Immigration on the table with PM Draghi
This afternoon, Castex, Le Drian and Darmanin, will be received by Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
The meeting is seen as an opportunity to further highlight the warming of relations between Paris and Rome, recently tested by episodes of tension, particularly on the migration issue when the far-right leader Matteo Salvini was Minister of the Interior.
The subject will also come up for discussion again when France takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 January.
In this context, Paris intends to make the reinforcement of Europe’s external borders one of its priorities, in particular by setting up secure registration camps at the main entry points to the continent, including Italy.