At least 3,000 children have been the victims of sex abuse by members of the French Catholic Church since 1950 a special commission has found

  • Jean-Marc Sauve, president of a commission, said there were 3,000 victims
  • Task force has been investigating child sex abuse within French Catholic Church 
  • He said there were 1,500 clergy and church officials caught up in the allegations
  • A hotline urging victims to come forward has taken 5,300 calls over the last year

A least 3,000 children were preyed on by pedophiles operating under the guise of the French Catholic Church since 1950, a commission has found.

Jean-Marc Sauve, the president of the task force, said 1,500 clergy and church officials are thought to have carried out sexual abuse on minors over the last 70 years.

A hotline urging victims to come forward has taken 5,300 calls over the past year alone, he added.

The commission was set up last June at the request of French bishops after a series of pedophilia cases rocked the church. 

The number of estimated victims represents more than 40 cases per year on average over the past seven decades.

‘I am profoundly convinced that there are many more victims,’ Sauve told journalists in a video conference. ‘What we do not know is how to consolidate these two sources’ of potential cases – the hotline and the commission’s own inquiries.’

Jean-Marc Sauve, the president of the task force, said 1,500 Catholic clergy and church officials have carried out sexual abuse on minors in France over the last 70 years (file image)

The call for witnesses has been extended to October 31 and reviews of church archives have resumed after being suspended during France’s coronavirus lockdown.

Pope Francis has vowed to confront criminal offences in the church’s ranks, including several cases where top officials knew of sexual assault but failed to inform the authorities.

Last year, Francis passed a measure obliging those with knowledge of child sexual abuse to report it to their superiors, a move that was expected to bring numerous new cases to light.

The commission headed by Sauve, a high-ranking civil servant, includes legal experts, doctors, historians, sociologists and theologians.

It is expected to produce a final report next year with recommendations on how to prevent abuse.

French cardinal Philippe Barbarin (pictured) who covered up child sex abuse by one of his priests has walked from from court after receiving a six-month suspended sentence

Last year a French cardinal once tipped as a future Pope handed in his resignation after receiving a six-month suspended sentence for covering up child sex abuse by one of his priests. 

Philippe Barbarin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Lyon, was convicted of failing to act on historic allegations of abuse of boy scouts in his diocese.

The 69-year-old  was the highest-profile cleric to be caught up in the child sex abuse scandal inside the Catholic Church in France. 

He submit his resignation to Pope Francis after being found guilty of failing to report allegations of abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s by Reverand Bernard Preynat who went on trial in January.  

But Pope Francis turned down his offer to resign and in a statement set by France’s Lyon Catholic Church, Barbarin said ‘invoking the presumption of innocence, the Holy Father declined to accept this resignation.’

A Vatican spokesman later confirmed Barbarin’s statement, saying Pope Francis instead asked Barbarin during their audience to do what he thinks is best for the Lyon archdiocese.

He decided to take time away and asked his deputy to assume leadership of the archdiocese. 

‘The responsibility and guilt of the cardinal have been confirmed by this judgement. It’s an extraordinary symbol, a moment of huge emotion,’ a lawyer for the victims, Yves Sauvayre, told reporters afterwards. 

Barbarin, who was not in court for the verdict, would contest the decision, his lawyers said. ‘We’ll see you here in a few months time for an appeal,’ defence lawyer Jean-Felix Luciani told reporters outside the courtroom.  

Barbarin said the victims and their family were in his prayers.

He and five former aides went on trial in Lyon at a time when the Catholic Church has been hit by abuse scandals in countries as far afield as Australia, Chile and the United States.

The outcome of the trial, which began in January 2019, had been long awaited in France. 

Earlier, he had said: ‘I cannot see what I am guilty of. I never tried to hide, let alone cover up these horrible facts.’

But Francois Devaux, who leads a victims’ group in Lyon and was one of up to 85 victims of Preynat, called Thursday’s verdict a ‘major victory for child protection.’ 

The case broke three years ago and lawyers for nine adult plaintiffs – former boy scouts allegedly abused by priest Preynat – took legal action.

Since the abuse relates to acts committed before 1991, prosecutors had declined to press charges because of the statute of limitations.

The trial went ahead only because the plaintiffs bypassed the prosecutor’s office and insisted, as they are entitled, on putting their case before a court.

Under French law, the court can still convict and even jail the suspect, regardless of the prosecutor’s position.

 Philippe Barbarin (pictured), the Roman Catholic archbishop of Lyon, was convicted of failing to act on historic allegations of abuse of boy scouts in his diocese

Barbarin and his co-defendants have denied covering up the scandal, with the archbishop saying he found out the full story about the priest only after it became public.

Preynat, who was charged with sexual abuse in 2016, is expected to be tried later this year.

He was first interviewed by church leaders in 1991, but Barbarin only suspended him and stopped him from working with children in September 2015.

Plaintiffs point to an exchange in 2015 between Barbarin and the Vatican, which advised him to dismiss the offending priest ‘while avoiding public scandal’.

Jean Boudot, lawyer for the victims, accused Barbarin of being a ‘liar’ when he said he had only learned of the breadth of the damage in 2014.

Barbarin said he confronted Preynat, about the abuse ‘rumours’ in 2010 but let the matter drop after Preynat insisted he had changed.

In 2014, after meeting with one of the priest’s victims, Barbarin contacted the Vatican about the affair, but he only removed the priest from his post a few months later.

Two other French religious figures have been convicted of failing to report child abuse in the past: the archbishop of Bayeux-Lisieux, Pierre Rican, in 2001, and the former bishop of Orleans, Andre Fort, last year.

Pope Francis last year promised an ‘all-out battle’ to tackle every single case of sexual abuse by priests, comparing paedophilia to ‘human sacrifice’, but drew an angry response from victims. 

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