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Sauvé Report: the French episcopate acknowledges the Church's institutional responsibility

The Sauvé study, commissioned by the French Bishops' Conference, was not limited to a numerical count, but called for a detailed analysis of the causes and possible remedies to the drift of abuses. The bishops did not want to "dispute the bill" but to assume their responsibility and call for a profound conversion.

José Luis Domingo-November 22, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes

The recent devastating revelations of the Sauvé Report suggesting a significant number of victims of sexual abuse by priests and religious over the past 70 years in France have been analyzed by the French bishops at the meeting held in Lourdes last week.

The study commissioned by the Bishops' Conference was not limited to a numerical count, but called for a detailed analysis of the causes and possible remedies for this drift. The hierarchy had given freedom to M. Sauvé, formerly vice-president of the Council of State, to form his team and to follow the methods he deemed appropriate. The independent character of this commission, which included personalities with multiple and complementary competencies and diverse philosophical and religious opinions: believers, non-believers, agnostics and atheists, was emphasized. The Church wanted to show absolute transparency and its desire to take the necessary measures to eradicate these crimes.

On the other hand, the recovery of credibility in the eyes of public opinion was perceived as a necessity requiring extraordinary means. In the background, the case of Abbé Preynat - now resigned from the clerical state - had shocked public opinion because of the exorbitant number of young scouts assaulted and had put the Cardinal of Lyon himself, Mgr Barbarin, in the dock for the crime of non-denunciation, sentenced in the first instance to six months in prison and finally acquitted on appeal. A film entitled "Thanks be to GodFrançois Ozon's "The Affair" was widely publicized in the country.

Having made public the results of the report already known, the bishops have unreservedly accepted these conclusions, wishing to make public a profound change of mentality and a sincere repentance. The episcopal body as a whole recognized the institutional responsibility of the Church and the systemic character of these acts of violence, "in the sense that they are not only the acts of isolated individuals, but were also made possible by a global context", in the words of Mgr de Moulins Beaufort, president of the French Bishops' Conference: "a degraded ecclesiastical system".

The measures voted on November 8 by the bishops recognize that the treatment of these situations in the past, only internally, had not helped to clarify them. Wishing to redress any injustice, an independent Church body for the recognition and redress of sexual violence has been set up to compensate any victim "whatever the cost". The practical means of raising the necessary funds has not yet been determined, but the sale of real estate or movable property in solidarity among the dioceses is not excluded. The bishops of France are asking the Pope to send apostolic visitators to analyze the way in which each diocese is working in this area. Nine working groups, led by lay people, have been set up, according to the recommendations of the Sauvé report, with the aim of renewing the form of governance.

At the end of the plenary assembly, on the esplanade of the Basilica of Lourdes, in the context of a penitential celebration, the bishops and the faithful present asked the Lord on their knees for forgiveness for all the abuses committed in the Church, while the bells rang out for the dead for all the victims.

The reaction of the episcopate corresponds to an awareness of the responsibility before God and mankind for this serious perversion that the Church has not been able to deal with within herself, apart from the behavior of other secular social institutions. The bishops did not want to "dispute the bill" but to assume their responsibility and call for a profound conversion. And this is perhaps the most significant thing to be retained by the ecclesiastical authorities.

About the Sauvé report

From the point of view of an outside observer, recognizing the seriousness of the problem and without minimizing it, it is legitimate to suggest some questions that could qualify in some sense, the conclusions of the Sauvé report in order to make them more relevant to the transformation of the French ecclesial society.

The staging of the delivery of the report to the bishops on October 5, 2021 showed the awareness that the Commission had taken from its mission of advice and counsel, transforming it into a sanctioning mission in the manner of a moral Tribunal of society without possible appeal, exceeding the mission entrusted to it. It is commendable that the Commission is independent, but any independent audit work requires a phase of confrontation before the publication of the report. Everything indicates that the bishops did not have the opportunity to study the report before its public presentation.

Independent does not mean incriminating. Mr. Sauvé gave the first quarter of an hour of the presentation to the president of a victims' association who did not spare any reproaches to the bishops: "you are the shame of our humanity"; repeating and making the audience repeat: "you must pay for all these crimes". Faced with the results of the report, he said, "the best thing you can do is to shut up and start working hard and fast to thoroughly overhaul the system". A week later, he called for the resignation of all the bishops of France. 

Apart from these violent manifestations, certainly in relation to painful experiences, the report's recommendations for the future are largely relevant, without excluding some isolated recommendations that are less relevant or rather impertinent in contrast to the specificity of the Church, such as, for example, abolishing the sacramental secrecy of confession or reconsidering the celibacy of priests.

The report indicates that most of the abuses took place between 1950 and 1970. When it comes to evaluating the causes and proposing recommendations, there is undoubtedly an anachronism in considering these past events with today's mentality and parameters, without considering the long road that the Church has made and society is trying to make to unmask these behaviors and the cultural and spatio-temporal coordinates that allow them. The report makes a detailed analysis for periods of 20 and 30 years, however, the global synthesis blurs the differences and could lead one to think that the average of this long period of 70 years of aggressions against minors constitutes the current average. Thus, it could be falsely concluded that currently 3 % of priests are abusers and that religious institutions are more dangerous to children than any other, when in fact the darkest period, with 56 % of assaults, was identified in the 1960s.

From an objective point of view, an overall assessment should have been made of the pederasty practices in France since 1950, and of the cultural parameters underlying them, in all the sectors linked to youth (national education, sports clubs, etc.) and not focusing only on the Church.) and not to focus solely on the Church, forgetting that in those years a certain intellectual elite in France defended these practices (suffice it to recall Jean-Paul Sartre, Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Gilles et Fanny Deleuze, Francis Ponge, Philippe Sollers, Jack Lang, Bernard Kouchner, Louis Aragon, André Glucksmann, François Châtelet and many others).

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