The Catholic Church in France has secured more than $22 million in compensation for victims of child sex abuse.
The news comes about four months after a report estimated that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.
“It’s a first step,” said Gilles Vermot-Desroches in an interview with Agence France-Presse. Vermot-Desroches is president of the Selam fund, which is responsible for gathering compensation for victims.
An initial $5.6 million has reportedly already been set aside for compensation claims under investigation by an independent panel.
It is unclear how the compensation fund was sourced. French bishops voted during their plenary assembly in November to sell off real estate and movable property of some Catholic dioceses. The Church also reportedly invited clergy and laity to make donations.
The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church published a report on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in France in October.
The report estimated 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks or nuns from 1950 to 2020.
It added that when abuse by other Church workers was also taken into account, “the estimated number of child victims rises to 330,000 for the whole of the period.”
Catholic bishops in France responded to the report with promises of a “vast program of renewal” of their governance practices and the possibility of mediation and compensation for abuse victims.
They also established working groups to address and prevent abuse.
At the end of their plenary assembly in November, the bishops knelt in an act of penance in Lourdes as an image of a weeping child was unveiled and an abuse victim shared their testimony.
Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, president of the French bishops’ conference, said at the time that the bishops had recognized the Church’s “institutional responsibility” for the report’s findings.
“We felt God’s gaze on us, because we felt disgust and fear rise up in us as we realized what so many people had experienced and were experiencing in terms of suffering, even though they had the right to receive the light, the consolation, the hope of God,” the archbishop said.
Some members of a French Catholic academy criticized the methodology of the abuse report, arguing the report lacked “scientific rigor.”
“The disproportionate assessment of this scourge feeds the narrative of a ‘systemic’ character and lays the groundwork for proposals to bring down the Church-institution,” they said.
The critique’s authors noted that the report recognized that there was no causal link between celibacy and sexual abuse.
But they said that “recommendation 4 deals with priestly celibacy and invites [the Church] ‘to identify the ethical requirements of consecrated celibacy, in particular with regard to the representation of the priest and the risk incurred of bestowing on him the status of hero, or of placing him in a position of dominance.’”
They argued that “this recommendation falls outside the scope of the commission’s competence.”
The critique prompted a backlash, with several members of the academy, founded in 2008, resigning.