ICMD, Oct 5, 2021:

An independent inquiry into alleged sex abuse of minors by French Catholic priests, deacons and other clergy has found some 216,000 victims of paedophilia from 1950 to 2020, a “massive phenomenon” that was covered up for decades by a “veil of silence.”

The landmark report, released on Tuesday after two and a half years of investigations, follows widespread outrage over a string of paedophilia claims and prosecutions against Church officials worldwide.

When lay members of the Church such as teachers at Catholic schools are included, the number of child abuse victims climbs to 330,000 over the seven-decade period.

Read more: Some 3,000 paedophiles in French Catholic Church since 1950: probe

“Until the early 2000s the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims,” the president of the independent commission, Jean-Marc Sauve, said at a press conference.

The commission was established by Catholic bishops in France at the end of 2018 to shed light on abuses and restore public confidence in the Church at a time of dwindling congregations. It has worked independently from the Church.

Sauve denounced the “systemic character” of efforts to shield clergy from paedophilia claims.

The report, at nearly 2,500 pages, found that the “vast majority” of victims were pre-adolescent boys from a wide variety of social backgrounds.

“The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence,” the report said.

“You are a disgrace to our humanity,” Francois Devaux, who set up victims' association La Parole Liberee, told church representatives at the public presentation of the report, before Sauve took the floor.

“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 said, also accusing the Church of cowardice.

How to prevent abuse
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 recognise and compensate victims, Sauv said.

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.

Devaux told The Associated Press that with this report, the French church for the first time is going to the root of this systemic problem. The deviant institution must reform itself, he added.

He said the number of victims the report identified is a minimum.

“Some victims did not dare to speak out or trust the commission, he said, expressing concerns that the church in France still hasn't understood and has sought to minimise its responsibilities.

The church must not only acknowledge events but also compensate victims, Devaux said. It is indispensable that the church redresses the harm caused by all these crimes, and (financial) compensation is the first step.

The Preynat case led to the resignation last year of the former archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who has been accused of failing to report the abuses to civil authorities when he learned about them in the 2010s.

France's highest court ruled earlier this year that Barbarin did not cover up the case. -- Courtesy Intl news agencies