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French bishops to weigh damning child abuse revelations in Lourdes

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By Josephine Joly  with AFP
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The bishops of the CEF pray during a mass at the annual conference of bishops of France at the basilica, in the sanctuary of Our Lady, on November 2, 2021.
The bishops of the CEF pray during a mass at the annual conference of bishops of France at the basilica, in the sanctuary of Our Lady, on November 2, 2021.   -   Copyright  VALENTINE CHAPUIS / AFP

French Catholic bishops gathered in Lourdes for their biannual meeting on Tuesday, a month after the publication of a devastating report on widespread child sexual abuse within the institution.

The findings of the Sauvé report on pedocriminality in the Church horrified the nation after revealing that an estimated 216,000 children had been victims of abuse from the clergy since the 1950s.

The "massive phenomenon" had been covered up for decades by a "veil of silence".

The independent commission also estimates that about 3,000 predators have been involved over the past 70 years.

For a week, the 120 members attending the meeting will discuss the findings highlighted in the report published on October 5 and devote almost half of their work to the fight against violence and sexual assaults on minors.

"I believe that there is no taboo question," said Monseigneur Luc Crepy, president of the "Permanent Unit for the Prevention and Fight against Pedophilia".

"The question of compensation, which is a matter of justice, will be addressed. Knowing that, we must think of the victims for whom the statute of limitations has expired, and therefore who will not have criminal justice since their cases are statute-barred. How can the Church recognise these people and give them justice?" he went on.

Ahead of the conference, the bishops said they would examine the question of the church's institutional responsibility for the mass abuse, as well as a mechanism to compensate victims, after they were urged by victims and their families to acknowledge their responsibility.

"The bishops have begun paying compensation. We wanted them to be the first to pay out," revealed father Hugues de Woillemont, Secretary-General of the Bishops' Conference of France (CEF).

"Maybe in the next few weeks, we will be in a better position to give the figures. It is starting to cost several hundred thousand euros."

In last month's report, the independent commission recommended that financial compensation should be calculated for each individual case according to the severity of abuses suffered, instead of making flat rate payments.

The money should be taken from the personal assets of the attackers or from the Church, the commission said, recommending against any call for donations from the Catholic faithful.

Decisions taken at the biannual meeting over the next few days will be submitted to a vote from bishops on November 8.

_Watch the full interview with investigative reporter Robert Chesal in the player above. _