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Message of the French bishops on cases of sexual abuse. “Saddened and ashamed before the victims’ suffering”

Devastated by the cases of sexual abuse, the French bishops wrote a Message "to the people of God in France" to express their “sadness and shame.” It is the first Message released by the French bishops. “Firstly, our thoughts go to those who have had their childhood stolen, whose lives have been permanently marked by atrocious deeds”, the bishops wrote. They announced that some victims will be invited to take part in the bishops’ next Plenary Meeting in Lourdes, where they will be “welcomed” and “listened to” by the bishops

“For the past months, our Church has been severely tried. Lay people, clergy, consecrated persons, we are deeply touched by the revelations of abuses that are surfacing all over the world and in our country. We feel sad and ashamed before the imprescriptible suffering of the victims and their loved ones”. These are the opening lines of the Message “to the people of God in France” released by French bishops today. The message is endorsed by the members of the Permanent Council, with the signature of the President, Msgr. Georges Pontier, on top. It’s the first official Message released by the French bishops on cases of abuse, although for the past two years the Bishops’ Conference has been concretely engaged with the adoption of a network and control system to counter and report every case and form of abuse in the Church to law enforcement authorities. In the Message the bishops obviously make no reference to specific cases nor to the diocese of Lyon where Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was summoned to court for “failure to report” the case of Father Preynat. A few days ago, a priest, Pierre Vignon, of the diocese of Valencia, has launched a petition on social media requesting the archbishop to resign.

In the Message, the bishops reiterate their unwavering stand on the side of the victims. “Our thoughts go first of all to those whose childhood has been stolen, whose lives have been forever marked by atrocious deeds.” At the same time they call upon the population, Catholics in particular, to avoid dangerous generalizations. “The deeds committed by some have reverberated throughout the Church.” In their letter the bishops underline the “criminal deeds” and “guilty silence.” They stated:

“We all suffer for this climate of suspicion affecting the Church and her priests.”

The bishops thus cautioned that suspicion should not impair people’s trust in the Church and in priests to whom the bishops conveyed their “respect and esteem.”

Referring to Pope Francis’ Letter to the People of God, the bishops call upon the faithful in of the dioceses to put it into practice, for “it’s only through everyone’s efforts and vigilance that we will successfully overcome this calamity represented by abuse inside the Church.” It should be said that the Church of France has done much in the past years to counter this “cancer” in her own bosom. Measures include the establishment of local surveillance “cells” in all dioceses and provinces; the creation of a dedicated website for victims that will enable those involved to contact the “cells” present at local level; the opening of an email address – paroledevictimes@cef.fr – available to whoever intends to file a report or in need of information.

“We humbly acknowledge that this struggle must be stepped up day by day, that it requires relentless vigilance and a permanent change of mentality. Today the suffering of abuse victims is the primary consequence deserving recognition before this scourge.

We were deeply upset and transformed by the stories of the victims.

We firmly believe that listening to them and the efforts carried out with them will help us fight paedophilia and identify ever-new forms of prevention, focusing, in particular, on the formation of those working with the young.” The Message ends in this spirit with the announcement that some of the victims were invited to take part in the next Plenary Assembly in Lourdes, and that they will be “welcomed” and “listened to” by the bishops.

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