Survivor tells of "tsunami" of victims ahead of report on French Catholic Church

·3 min read
Olivier Savignac, president of the association "Parler et Revivre", poses during an interview with Reuters in Paris

By Tangi Salaün

PARIS (Reuters) - A report on sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergymen in France is set to say there has been an estimated 216,000 victims since 1950, a survivor who contributed to the dossier said ahead of its publication on Tuesday.

An independent commission spent more than 2-1/2 years investigating sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the country over the past seven decades. It is set to present its findings at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT).

In the run-up to the release of its findings, Commission head Jean-Marc Sauve said about 3,000 paedophile priests and clerics https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/french-catholic-church-had-estimated-3000-paedophiles-since-1950s-commission-2021-10-03 abused minors over the period, and called that number a conservative estimate.

Olivier Savignac, who was sexually abused by a priest in 1993, at the age of 13, has contributed to the report as a victims' representative and has seen large parts of the document. He said victims ought to be properly compensated.

"We can see how systemic it was ... with an estimated number of 216,000 victims," Savignac told Reuters, quoting the report and adding that the Church could not have ignored something of that magnitude.

"It's an earthquake, a hurricane, a tsunami ... when you see these numbers, it's so damning that no one can stay in denial, whether the Catholic Church or society as a whole," said Savignac, who has set up a victims' association, Parler et Revivre (Speak and Live again).

Reuters has not been given access to the report ahead of its publication and could not independently verify its content. A spokesperson for the Church said they would not comment before it is published. The independent commission could not be reached for comment.

A Vatican spokesperson said at the weekend that it would wait for the full report to be published before deciding on whether to comment.

PRAYER FOR VICTIMS

The commission was established by Catholic bishops in France at the end of 2018 to shed light on abuses and restore public confidence in the Church at a time of dwindling congregations. It has worked independently from the Church.

The man who abused Savignac when he was a teenager was found guilty by a French court two years ago but that is an exception, he said, stressing how hard it is for young Catholics to speak up and accuse representatives of the Church.

"What we expect from the Church is an answer to the level of what people have suffered," Savignac said, "and that can't be throwing a few thousand euros at it and say it's behind us. No, there is a need for proper compensation to the level of what each person suffered."

The French Church said in March it would propose some financial aid to victims.

The scandal in the French Church is the latest to hit the Roman Catholic Church, which has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.

In June, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis was a worldwide "catastrophe".

The French Catholic Church posted a prayer on its official Twitter account on Sunday, on behalf of victims.

"Dear Lord – we entrust to you all those who have been victims of violence and sexual attacks in the Church. We pray that we will always be able to count on your support and help during these ordeals," it wrote on its Twitter account.

Since his election in 2013, Francis has taken a series of steps aimed at wiping out sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

This year, he issued the most extensive revision to Catholic Church law in four decades, insisting that bishops take action against clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults. Critics have said he has not done enough.

(Reporting by Tangi Salaun; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alison Williams)

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