Pope Highlights ‘Dignity’ of French Bishops

In Face of the Crisis of Sexual Abuses in the Church of France

Dignity of French Bishops
Meeting with the presidency of the French Bishops' Conference, Dec. 13. 2021 © Vatican Media

Pope Francis highlighted the dignity of the attitude of the French Bishops, following the recent Report of sexual abuses in the Church of the country.

A few hours after his meeting with the Holy Father yesterday, December 13, 2021, the President of the Conference of Bishops of France (CBF), Monsignor Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, and his two Vice-Presidents, Bishops Olivier Leborgne and Dominique Blanchet held an informative meeting with the press in Rome’s French Seminary.

According to “Vatican News,” CBF’s presidency pointed out that this audience with the Pope is an annual custom to inform him on the works of their Plenary Assembly. The French Bishops met in Lourdes from November 2-8, 2021 for this event, focusing particularly on the Report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuses (ICASE), published last October 5. The results of the Repot caused great commotion in France, given that it showed that around 330,000 victims of sexual violence have existed in the Catholic Church since 1950.

Listening and Care of the Victims

 Monsignor Eric de Moulins-Beaufort explained that the French Bishops underwent a “conversion”  during the Lourdes Assembly. For his part, Monsignor Olivier Leborgne referred to a “spiritual adventure,” which led them to put listening and care of the victims at the center of their focus. This also includes assuming institutional responsibility above individual faults.

During their meeting with the Bishop of Rome, “the Pope stressed the dignity of our attitude and of our way of handling the ICASE Report, and he encouraged us to continue doing so in a synodal way,” said the CBF’s President during the press conference.

According to “Vatican News,” the Report continues to be a valid working basis, despite the recent controversy. And the Pontiff, who will receive Jean-Marc Sauvé, ICASE’s President, at a date yet to be determined, was interested in some of the aspects that the Bishops were able to explain to him directly, in particular, the historical data on the way the Church of France treated the “problematic priests.”

Address the Evil from the Root

 In his conversation with the Presidency of the Episcopal Conference of France, His Holiness took up the summit dedicated to the protection of minors in the Church, which was held in Vatican City in February of 2019, with the participation of the Presidents of the Episcopates of the whole world. Pope Francis reiterated the need to “do whatever is necessary” to address the evil from the root, at the global level.

However, for the Bishops, the challenge is to live a “spiritual journey” and “put themselves before the Lord,” assuming their responsibilities “before the victims and before Christ.”

Other Countries of Europe

 Addressed also in the meetings of the Conference of Bishops of France were more specific and current topics of the treatment of abuses against minors with Cardinals Marc Ouellet and João Braz de Aviz, Prefects of the Congregation for Bishops and of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic life, respectively.

In regard to the rest of the European countries, the same source stated that the exchanges have been rather informal. Foreseen in January of 2022 is a meeting of the Episcopal Conference with the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of Germany and Switzerland, which will make possible the exchange of experiences with other surveys carried out with a different methodology.

Monsignor Aupetit’s Resignation

 In regard to Monsignor Michel Aupetit’s recent resignation, now Archbishop Emeritus of Paris, the Prelates said to the press: “The Pope confided to us his sadness for having had to take this decision,” taking into account that “the atmosphere that has been created no longer enables him to govern” the diocese.

The Pontiff expressed “his esteem for Archbishop Aupetit’s pastoral reaction,” and he joked about  the “beautiful souls that shout, without accepting that the Bishops can be sinners.” This answer, concluded Monsignor de Moulins-Beaufort, contrasts with that of the “People of God that prays, that suffers.”

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester