Commission into French Catholic Church sex abuse claims opens

This picture shows a the bell tower of the Lieurey church, northwestern France, on December 29, 2018. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)


PARIS, France (AFP) — An independent commission set up by the French Catholic Church to look at allegations of sexual abuse by clerics begins its work on Monday by launching an appeal for witness statements.

France’s Catholic bishops set up the commission last year in response to a number of scandals that shook the Church in the country and also worldwide.

It now has the task to shed light on sexual abuse committed by French clerics on minors or vulnerable individuals going right back to the 1950s.

“For the first time in France, an independent institution is going to launch, over the course of a year, an appeal for witness statements about sexual abuse,” said commission president Jean-Marc Sauve.

A picture shows the crucifix arund the neck of Archbishop of Lille Laurent Ulrich during a meeting organised by the Catholic diocese of Lille around the theme “”The Church confronted with sexual abuse” in Lomme, northern France, on May 2, 2019. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP)

He has promised that the commission — made up of 22 legal professionals, doctors, historians, sociologists and theologians — would deliver its conclusions by the end of 2020.

“It is an important action to be able to give victims psychological or legal help,” he told AFP.

The commission opens after Pope Francis in May passed a landmark new measure to oblige those who know about sex abuse in the Catholic Church to report it to their superiors, a move which could bring countless new cases to light.

Sauve expects thousands of telephone calls to a special hotline as well as messages to an email address, with victims then offered face-to-face interviews in a later stage.

The Bishops’ Conference of France agreed in November to set up the commission after scandals which shook the Catholic Church at home and abroad.

French cardinal Philippe Barbarin was handed a six-month suspended jail sentence in March for failing to report sex abuse by a priest under his authority.

Also in March, the Vatican’s former number three, Australian Cardinal George Pell, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Melbourne court for the “brazen” sexual abuse of two choirboys.


© Agence France-Presse