Report on Sex Crimes by the Catholic Church Shocks France

November 1, 2021

The Sauvé Report has been sending shockwaves across not just the Catholic institutions but the whole France.
Jean-Marc Sauve, the Head of the Commission to investigate sexual abuse at the Catholic Church in France speaking at a conference held in Istanbul on May 6, 2021 2016. Photo by Anadolu Images

On October 5, Jean-Marc Sauvé, the head of the independent commission charged by the Catholic Church itself to investigate sex crimes in its ranks, publicly and solemnly released the massive 2,500 page report, whose conclusions he shared in a two-hour, surgically and factually devastating live presentation in front of the press, politicians, associations of victims, and Catholic officials.

The result of a three-year investigation by a panel of 22 experts in all relevant fields (law, theology, psychiatry, social sciences, anthropology, history of religions, etc.), based on Church, court, and police archives as well as interviews with victims and witnesses, the Sauvé Report is being hailed by all, without a single exception, as a model to be emulated by other nations and institutions worldwide seeking to investigate sex crimes. In its scope, conclusions, and methodological sophistication both quantitative and qualitative, it is simply unprecedented and has no equivalent anywhere in the world.

It is an understatement to say that ever since its public release, that the report, akin to a fragmentation bomb or cataclysm, has been sending shockwaves across not just the Catholic institution but the whole nation and to a much lesser extent other countries. Although everybody knew the Catholic Church had always been a hotbed of pedophilia and that was an open secret—after all, among other goals Jean Calvin’s reform movement back in the 16th century already intended to react against the massive debauchery he could observe in the Church from top to bottom—and despite widespread common awareness, the Sauvé Report stunned and shocked by the extent and gravity of what it is describing.

Main Findings

A mere few facts and numbers may give an idea:

  • Between 1950 and 2020, a 70-year period, less than a lifetime, 216,000 children, 80% of whom young boys, have been raped, often repeatedly over a long period of time (several months or years) by about 3,000 predator priests or bishops (3% of the total), and a few nuns. Some of those priests raped hundreds of children.
  • If one adds those who were abused by laymen working for and in the Catholic Church (catechists, monitors of youth camps, etc.), the figure rises to 330,000 victims.
  • All along, the Catholic hierarchy from the peers of the criminals all the way to bishops, cardinals, and popes, including Pope Francis, knew the identity and crimes of most of the serial rapists. Yet, not only they did nothing to stop them, but they actively, systematically, and methodically denied and covered up the crimes; sheltered and protected the serial rapists from public exposure and criminal prosecution; and consistently refused to pay any attention to the victims, whose abuse they denied and whom they refused to listen to—as was still the case a mere few years ago.
  • In some cases, for decades, highly organized and effective actual networks of pedophiliac priests shared among themselves and with others both the children and the pornographic material (images, etc.) produced during those sessions on church grounds.
  • As Alain Cordier and other commission members declared, “I want to emphasize the fact that it is NOT a problem of the past but a problem of the present. Because the problem continues today.”

The report also studies the trend over time since the 1950s, and identifies three broad periods: the 50s-early 70s, with the highest numbers; a sharp, continuous, and substantial decrease from the 70s to the mid-90s; a stabilization ever since with even a slight increase from the 1990s to 2010.

In their explanations, the commission members were careful to guard against a misreading of this sudden decrease that lasted 25 years: first, that downward trend stopped and was followed by a stagnation; second, the “virtuous” decrease was not in any way due to a sudden sanitization of the Catholic Church, but was a mere mathematical effect of the dramatic secularization and de-Catholicization of France, of the loss of both practice and faith that becomes so obvious during those exact same decades, and of the abrupt, massive, and continuous cuts in the number of priests, congregations, choirs, Catholic boarding schools, etc. In a nutshell, if there were fewer cases of abuse in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, it was because there were fewer priests, parishes, and potential victims to prey upon. Even the one good news, when properly understood, turns out to be a bad one.

One immediate achievement of this report has been to shatter the stereotypes about sex crimes in the Catholic Church. Too often, we imagined “mild” forms of abuse, relatively “harmless” caresses or “erotic games” after church or choir time, what the French were still euphemistically and prudishly calling before this report “attouchements sexuels.” So, not “real” rapes. In reality, and the report is full of such nauseating testimonies, we are talking about rapes of the gravest and most violent and depraved order, including forced mutual fellatios, intercourse, and frequent sado-masochistic practices, often with young children between 6 and 12.

Olivier Savignac (R), one of the victims, greets an attendee during the publishing of a report by an independent commission into sexual abuse by church officials (Ciase) on October 5, 2021, in Paris. Photo by THOMAS COEX/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

A second instant achievement of the report has been to completely pulverize all the denial, spin, hypocritical lines of defense, and attempts at minimizing the nature and extent of the crimes the Catholic Church had been able to use to oppose such accusations until October 5, 2021. At least they are no longer trying, as shown by the pope’s reaction when he lamented, “Dignity to our Lord! Shame, shame, shame on all of us!” while the other Church officials, shamed and rendered speechless, could only admit everything and hypocritically feign surprise, and then ask for “forgiveness.”

At least the French Church is no longer trying to hide or minimize any of this as it was still doing yesterday, and it has now fully accepted the conclusions of this horrifying report. Historically, this in itself is colossal progress.

To take the full measure of this, one needs to keep in mind four other facts:

1) The figures above would be terrible for a country the size of a continent like the United States with a population of 330 million. But we are here talking about a small country with a population of 67 million, the size of the state of Texas, a country where one can drive from east to west and north to south in half a day or less.

2) Those numbers include only minors, but sex crimes against legal adults above 18 years old whether nuns or practitioners are also widespread and would need to be added to the already horrible picture.

3) The comparison between the French situation and similar investigations conducted in other countries like Germany, Ireland, the United States, or Australia suggests France may actually be at the bottom of the list. One will remember that the famous 2002 Boston Globe investigation, popularized by the star-studded 2015 blockbuster Spotlight, uncovered nearly 100 pedophiliac priests and thousands of victims in a mere few dioceses of that one U.S. city and that in the years that followed, similar or worse patterns were discovered all across the country in hundreds of cities.

4)  Those numbers, whether French or American, are the “low and minimal estimates” as the Sauvé commission members have always been careful to specify in their many public interventions.

Institutionalizing Rape and Pedophilia

A few quotes by Jean-Marc Sauvé himself will illuminate the systemic nature of the crime, which can no longer be reduced to a mere few rotten apples or a matter of individuals, even thousands of them, in an otherwise healthy institution.

Until the 2000s, the Catholic Church showed a complete and cruel indifference to the victims.

Sex abuse in the Catholic Church has been a massive and systemic phenomenon, covered by a veil of silence.

Catholic authorities covered up the abuse over decades, in a systemic manner.

The cover-up has permitted mass crimes for decades.

The French findings are furthermore fully corroborated by previous findings from other countries, suggesting without a doubt that the exact same has been happening everywhere where the Catholic Church operates:

For the first time, we can all begin to understand the systematic cover-up by Church leaders that followed. The abuse scarred every diocese. The cover-up was sophisticated. The Church protected the institution at all costs […] The cover-ups by the Church served a key purpose—the longer they covered up abuses, the less chance that law enforcement could prosecute predator priests because the statute of limitations would run out. “As a consequence of the cover-up, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted, the grand jury found.

To sum up, four main lessons clearly emerge from this picture. First, the Catholic Church has been and, as Alain Cordier made clear, remains a massive breeding ground of organized mass pedophilia and a true safe haven for its thousands of sex predators. Second, pretty much everybody knew everything all along including bishops, cardinals, and popes, who were aware of the identities of the priests and children, when and where this was happening, yet not only did they do nothing but they actively covered it up, guaranteeing, in full knowledge, that this activity would go on—and one should remember here how Pope Francis himself, who now claims shock and surprise in utmost hypocrisy much to the victims’ anger, in 2018, was still defending predator priests while calling their victims liars, publicly accusing them of “slander and calumny.”

Three, besides the family (for obvious reasons such as that is where children spend most of their time, relatives have easy and permanent access, etc.), the Catholic Church has been (and most likely remains) quite simply the institution where the most pedophiliac crimes occur, well ahead of schools, sports clubs, youth camps, etc. In that domain it simply has no match. Four, and this needs to be stated without euphemism: what is described here is a gigantic collective crime—what the Catholic Church has done was to institutionalize mass pedophilia, make it part of its culture, of its DNA, and entrench then preserve and protect it like no other institution besides the family ever did, possibly in human history.

VIDEO: How damaging are France’s Catholic Church abuse revelations?

Reparations and Recommendations

The Sauvé Report also makes 45 recommendations to the Church for drawing all the consequences of what has been revealed and above all for preventing the continuation or repetition of that “crime against humanity” —as Véronique Margron, president of the Conference of Religious Authorities of the Catholic Church of France called it. Some of those recommendations, like the creation of a compensation fund for victims, have been approved by the Catholic authorities. Others, like the recognition of collective guilt continues to be opposed, somewhat amazingly given it is at this point the established truth.

Both the report and the victims’ associations, here on the same wavelength, are clear: this will not be solved with a quick fix, a plea for “forgiveness,” then business as usual. What is needed, now and for the decades to come is a reform of the Catholic Church, as “massive and systemic” as its crimes themselves, as well as a process of restorative justice that will affect the Church at all levels, including its governance mode; its deep culture (from secrecy to masculine domination); the way it selects and trains its officials, clerical or not; and even key aspects of its traditional practices, rites, and doctrines, like the secret of the “sacred confession,” the status of the priest, celibacy, and the exclusion of women from authority positions. All things that are clearly no longer sustainable given what we know and are now hotly debated in France.

Needless to say, and it is likely the Church will continue to resist this as much as it can, the report asks that the institution take “full legal and judicial responsibility both in individual terms [all those guilty of either sex crime or cover-up] and in collective, institutional as well as civic terms” (civic, given the place of the Catholic Church in French society and history).

Which leads us to another major aspect of this affair: the role and responsibility of the French government(s) in its relations to the Catholic Church both then and now.

The Complicit Passivity of the French Governments

First, unless the French state and the parliament, in particular, get itself involved, for example by imposing some of those reforms with the risk of violating the constitutional principle of separation of church and state (something that the French governments though have no problems doing with Islam), there are few chances those 45 recommendations will be implemented. After all, it is only a mere few years ago, only when it was cornered, and only because it had become impossible to continue denying those crimes as it had been doing for centuries until the 2010s, that the Catholic Church started to take a few steps—weak, timid, unconvincing, and largely ineffective—towards the recognition and prevention of the pedophiliac Holocaust it had been perpetuating and encouraging.

What that report also shows is this is simply not a trustworthy entity and that just like the most hardened and cynical criminals, it will only do the right thing when forced to.

Unfortunately, the French governments—left, right, or center—have also proven criminally deficient and irresponsible in this sad story. They never did anything to stop the abuse either. Instead of tacking the problem head on, the governments’ complicity through passivity (here basically total throughout those long decades) and their silence has been consistent and absolute, for both political reasons (the importance of the traditional conservative Catholic electorate for conservative parties, heads of states who like General Charles de Gaulle were themselves devout Catholics) and cultural reasons (the centrality of Catholicism and the Church in French history, its famous “laicity,” and separation of church and state, etc.).

This other denial is all the more shocking since the protection of childhood is an important and formal part of the responsibilities of the state, yet absolutely nothing was done to curb this epidemic of child rapeIt is, therefore, also because of that passive complicity that the Church was able for so long to have its many free lunches, though that other hard truth will remain unrecognized and certainly denied by France’s political class.

There is little doubt there is nothing much to expect on that front. Even amidst the cataclysm caused by the Sauvé Report, the best French President Emmanuel Macron could find to say or do was to spin this, like many others in the most inappropriate and indecent manner, by praising the “courage” and the “sense of responsibility” of the Catholic Church for “facing the truth” (!). The victims’ associations beg to differ.

This continuing indulgence and unashamed passivity signal that the Catholic Church will continue to benefit from a privileged treatment by a state nonetheless constitutionally obligated to treat every religion on its soil on a principle of strict equality. But in that respect there will be no aggiornamento and the Catholic Church will remain the French state’s pet, above all the rest.

Double Standards

The double standards are here once again glaring: at a time when the French government is banning, closing, shutting down by the hundreds mosques, Islamic associations and charities, Islamic schools, bookstores, restaurants, and drinking establishments on the sole basis they are “suspected of Islamist fundamentalism,” one can imagine what their reaction would have been if even a fraction of the Sauvé Report had been discovered to happen… in mosques not churches!

But we predict that not a single Catholic church will even be further investigated, much less shut down, by the French state itself. Thus, while the state cracks down hard on Islam for imaginary crimes, or for alleged crimes of thought that do not even fall under French law (“fundamentalism”, “radicalism”, etc.), it praises the Catholic Church for its “courage and sense of responsibility,” turning reality on its head.

Jean-Michel Blanquer, the top minister directly responsible for the protection of childhood, is himself busy launching campaigns after campaigns against “Islamo-leftism” and the “wokest” ideology in French universities.

As one can see, in the midst of these horrific revelations, France’s government, in general, and its minister in charge of the protection of childhood, in particular, definitely have their priorities in order.

Finally, Macron’s celebration of the “courage” of the Catholic Church is most premature and inadequate if we consider this simple fact: among all the Catholic Churches operating across the globe on all continents, only a handful has actually conducted such investigations. The rest, namely a good 99% of all Catholic Churches in our countries whether in Africa, Latin America, or Europe, are still fighting against it and refusing such investigations tooth and nail.

At least we now all know why.

Alain Gabon is associate professor of French studies at Virginia Wesleyan University, Virginia Beach, USA. He has lectured and published widely on contemporary France but also on Islam and geopolitics.

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