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French bishops agree to compensate thousands of sex abuse victims

All the bishops of France and the nuns make a penitential gesture towards the victims of sexual abuse committed by the priests on the forecourt of the Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire basilica in the sanctuary of Lourdes, southwestern France, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. An independent commission examining sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in France believes 3,000 child abusers, two-thirds of them priests, have worked in the church over the past 70 years. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

France’s Catholic Church has agreed to financially compensate thousands of people who were sexually abused by priests in what the president of the country’s Bishops’ Conference hailed as a “decisive step”.

Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said in a speech on Monday that the church has recognised its “institutional responsibility” and decided to go “on a path of recognition and reparation that paves the way for victims to get the possibility of a mediation and a compensation”.

The move came as the Bishops’ Conference held its annual meeting, a month after a major report revealed large-scale child sex abuse within the French Catholic Church over the last 70 years.

Released by an independent commission, the study estimated that some 330,000 children were sexually abused over a period dating back to the 1950s by priests or other church-related figures.

It marked the latest controversy to rock the Roman Catholic Church after a series of sexual abuse scandals around the world, often involving children, over the past 20 years.

“We felt disgust and horror inside us when we realised how much suffering so many people had lived and were still living,” Moulins-Beaufort said.

The bishops acknowledged the church’s responsibility that implies financial compensation because the commission “strongly suggested that path” but also because “worshippers full of shame were expecting it from us,” he said.

Moulins-Beaufort did not provide details about the amount of the compensation and how the church intends to pay.

The report published last month described a “systemic” cover-up of abuse by the Catholic Church, accusing it of drawing a “veil of silence” over the wrongdoing.

It said the tally of 330,000 victims includes an estimated 216,000 people abused by priests and other clerics, and the rest by church figures such as scout leaders and camp counsellors. The estimates were based on broader research by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research into sexual abuse of children in the country.

The commission that produced the 2,500-page report made 45 recommendations for the church, including training priests and other clerics, revising canon law – the legal code the Vatican uses to govern the church – and fostering policies to recognise and compensate victims.

France is a traditionally Roman Catholic country, but adheres to a strict form of secularism in public life based on a 1905 law separating church and state.

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