Pope Francis has encouraged French Bishops to persevere “with determination” in the fight against paedophilia and to continue in their implementation of a “zero tolerance” stance against crimes whose “wounds”, “will never be healed by a prescription.” The statement is contained in a message signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, read during the Plenary Assembly of French Bishops ongoing in Lourdes. This year’s assembly gained extensive media coverage, with journalists corresponding from the venue of the Assembly. Items on the agenda include the issue of abuse inside the Church, also in the light of recent alleged cases (in Lyon and Orleans) that are being examined by law enforcement authorities. The bishops also met, for the first time together, eight victims of abuses. “Given the current context, which has been made more difficult, especially because of the serious offenses committed by certain members of the Church –reads the message – the Holy Father encourages you to persevere in your fight against paedophilia.” The Pope – inviting to recognize “the humble fidelity lived in daily life”, by so many priests, men and women religious – expressed his hope that “the determination in your efforts and in implementing zero tolerance be strengthened by welcoming and listening to victims, whose wounds will never have a ‘prescription’.” SIR contacted by phone Vincent Neymon, Director of Communication for the French Bishops’ Conference.
The victims have met the bishops in groups of 30 at a time, to promote mutual encounter. How did the bishops react to their testimony?
The bishops were moved by their testimonies, they were deeply touched. Many of them had already met the victims of abuse, but the fact of having met them together triggered feelings of collective, shared emotions. It was important for the bishops to welcome and listen to the victims during their Assembly.
The victims asked the bishops to adopt “clear lines of action.” What does this refer to specifically?
In fact the victims demanded concrete initiatives in different fields. They spoke of action inside the parish. They also proposed promoting the formation of bishops with regard to the accompaniment process of victims and highlighted the importance of Memory, namely, to use the testimonies and the stories of the victims with a view to strengthening preventive measures starting from increased understanding of the contexts and underlying causes of the crimes. The victims highlighted various lines of action, directly linked to the fight against paedophilia and indirectly directed to those tasked with carrying out these actions. On the basis of their suggestions, the bishops are reflecting on the most effective measures to be adopted.
France has already implemented a set of initiatives. What is the object of this reflection?
The bishops are reflecting on the creation of an external, independent Commission to optimize support to victims and capitalize on their testimonies in the most effective ways. It’s an in-depth debate behind closed doors. This is – evidently – happening thanks to last Saturday’s meeting with the victims.
Pope Francis has sent a powerful message urging the bishops to persevere in the implementation of a “zero tolerance” policy. How did the bishops react?
It was received as an encouragement.
The bishops are already following this path. This avenue is not new. However, they felt reassured by Francis’ words. It’s very important for the bishops to feel “drawn” by their master who resolutely shows them the way, as bishops they feel encouraged to take action. This invitation is not addressed to the bishops alone: as the Pope wrote in a recent Letter, it’s a commitment that must involve all the People of God. “Sinodality” is a word that resonated often during the Assembly. Today it is clear – and it will be increasingly clearer – that the fight against paedophilia will be effective when it will involve the victims and the whole people of God.
In their “introductory statement” the victims wrote to the Bishops: “Do not be afraid.” Which message will France bring to the meeting of all the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences to address the abuse crisis, called by Francis for February 2019?
Msgr. Georges Pontier, President of the French Bishops’ Conference, had a special personal meeting with the victims of abuses present here in Lourdes, to understand and personally embrace their testimony and bring a message to the Holy Father on their behalf on the occasion of the meeting in Rome. I think that this phrase they addressed to the bishops – “Do not be afraid” – perfectly summarizes what the victims are asking of the Church today.
Do not be afraid to be brave in your action.
A lot has been done until now. But without doubt new systems and new paths of action are needed to uncover the truth in all circumstances , however painful. If we are afraid, we will never know the truth.