To those who ask questions, to those who live the suspicion weighing on the image of priests today with “pain”, to those who wonder whether the Church of France will pursue her fight against child abuse, “we say that a step has been taken. We are fully aware that we are responsible for the children and young people entrusted to the Church’s care, as well as for those who are already victims. We will not turn back”. Mgr. Georges Pontier, Archbishop of Marseille and president of the French bishops, said this in his opening remarks to the general assembly in Lourdes which will elect the new president of the Bishops’ Conference. In his opening speech, Mgr. Pontier immediately addressed the sensitive issue of child protection in the Church, starting with the “Barbarin case”. He referred to “Lyon prosecutors who first dropped the charges against cardinal Barbarin, followed by his conviction and a request to appeal lodged by his lawyers, the Pope who waited until the end of the trial to decide on the resignation submitted by Cardinal Barbarin, the lack of clarity of the new government of the Diocese of Lyon, and the strong reactions of some victims of abuse”. All this, Archbishop Pontier said, “marks our diocesan Churches”. Also: “The horrors exposed by the media, experienced by religious women assaulted by diocesan priests or religious, sometimes even by their superiors, requires that we and the CORREF (the Conference of Religious of France, editor’s note) join efforts to ensure victims are heard and accompanied, and are able to report these despicable acts”.
“The Lord – Mgr. Pontier concluded – calls us to conversion, to missionary action as a way to render justice. The suffering of the victims becomes the suffering of the whole Church. Their determination has become ours, our listening to their testimony an occasion for questioning and communion. Let us see this as the work of the Holy Spirit who purifies the Church, and with her all those who are in charge of leading her in following Christ”.