Pope Francis told French Catholic bishops on Monday that he is willing to meet the authors of a landmark abuse report.
The pope said that he was “completely available” for a meeting, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort told journalists on Dec. 13 after a papal audience.
The French bishops’ conference president met the pope at the Vatican with conference vice presidents Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras and Bishop Dominique Blanchet of Créteil, as well as secretary general Father Hugues de Woillemont.
The pope and the bishops discussed the conclusions of the final report published by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) on Oct. 5.
The almost 2,500-page study said that the number of children who suffered abuse by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns from 1950 to 2020 was estimated to be around 216,000.
It added that when abuse by other Church workers was also considered, “the estimated number of child victims rises to 330,000 for the whole of the period.”
“The pope told us [...] that he wished first of all to hear us and showed himself completely available on the principle of receiving the members of CIASE. It remains now to find the right date,” Moulins-Beaufort said, according to AFP.
According to French media, Pope Francis was due to meet members of CIASE on Dec. 9, but the meeting was reportedly postponed.
The pope responded to the CIASE report the day after its publication, describing it as “a moment of shame.”
Speaking at his weekly general audience on Oct. 6, he said: “To the victims, I wish to express my sadness and my pain for the traumas they have endured and my shame, our shame, my shame that for so long the Church has been incapable of putting this at the center of its concerns, assuring them of my prayers.”
During an in-flight press conference on Dec. 6, the pope said that he hadn’t read the report, but would shortly be meeting French bishops and would ask them “to explain to me what is wrong.”
He also cautioned against “mixing time periods” when judging the Church’s response to abuse.
“When doing these studies we have to be careful in the interpretations that we do over long periods of time,” he commented.
“When you do it over such a long time, there is a risk of confusing the way you perceive the problem of a time period 70 years before.”
“I just want to say this as a principle: A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours.”
Members of a French Catholic academy have sharply criticized the CIASE report’s methodology.
Eight representatives of the prestigious 250-member Académie catholique de France wrote a 15-page document arguing that CIASE had departed “in a troubling way” from its mandate and casting doubt on its headline figures.
The intervention prompted resignations from the group. Among those reportedly tendering their resignations were Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops’ conference, and Sister Véronique Margron, president of the Conference of Religious of France (CORREF), both of whom took part in the CIASE report’s launch.
Jean-Marc Sauvé, president of CIASE, responded to the critique by defending his team’s work.
AFP reported that the pope did not refer to the critique, which has reportedly been sent to the Vatican, during his meeting with the French bishops, which lasted more than an hour.
(Story continues below)
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Moulins-Beaufort said that Pope Francis also discussed Archbishop Michel Aupetit’s resignation as archbishop of Paris, which the pope accepted on Dec. 2.
According to the Catholic weekly magazine Famille Chrétienne, Moulins-Beaufort said: “He simply told us how sad he was about the situation and the decision he had to make.”
“He repeated what he had said on the plane, namely that he had taken this decision on the altar of hypocrisy and not of truth because he felt that the climate that had been created did not allow Archbishop Aupetit to govern the diocese peacefully.”
The archbishop of Reims, northeastern France, said that the pope underlined “his esteem for the pastoral activity” of Aupetit, who celebrated a farewell Mass in Paris on Dec. 10.
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