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.
Nord, France – Grande Synthe, a makeshift refugee camp close to Dunkirk and Calais, sits on an old railway line.
About 250 people live here and try to fight the bitter winter cold temperatures, which can drop to as low as -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), by huddling in tents and small wooden shelters, or lighting fires.
Two months have passed since 27 people died in a refugee boat tragedy between France and the United Kingdom that shocked activists and spurred a diplomatic spat between the neighbours over how to stem crossings.
But the perilousness of the journey has failed to deter asylum seekers in northern France who hope to reach England.
Of the victims identified by French police, 16 were Iraqi Kurds, some of whom had been living at Grande Synthe, commonly known as the camp for Kurdish refugees in northern France.
Most refugees here are Kurdish, and there are women and lone children among them.
“Grande Synthe is run by Kurdish smugglers,” Claire Millot, the general secretary of the local charity Salam, told Al Jazeera. “In Calais, there are still people who have no smugglers, who try their luck alone.
“In Calais, life is much harder. Police evict people and take their tents every two days, but it’s a bit more comfortable, there are toilets, showers, and water points. In Grande Synthe, there is none of those things, but evictions are rarer, about two or three times a month.”
As they queue for water, food, and clothes donated by local NGOs, people find ways to keep their spirits up. Often, this is with storytelling – recounting memories from their homeland and praying to make it safely to England. These personal stories are embodied by the important objects they carried with them: a small girl loves her scooter, a young man keeps his football close, another wears a necklace of his country’s flag.
Al Jazeera spoke to refugees in Grande Synthe about their treasured objects:
‘This scooter is like my best friend’
Haven, 10, from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq
“I have no friends here, so this scooter is like my best friend. It means so much to me. I just got it two days ago from a local charity, a volunteer gave it to me, and I haven’t let go of it since. I used to have a bicycle similar to this in Rania, but I had to let it go when we left to make the journey. I kept thinking about it on our long way here, I felt so sad without it. I left everything in Kurdistan. Here I’m very poor, the scooter is the only thing I have. It makes me so happy to have it.
“I had to say goodbye to so many friends in Kurdistan. I used to take lots of boxing classes with many of them as well. I was a champion there, I’m very strong. I miss them all a lot, but I still talk to them using my mum’s phone. My friends ask me if I’m in France and how I’m doing, I tell them I’m happy, I’m going to England.”
Hide, 30, from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq
“This is a picture of me as an ambulance driver in Rania, Iraqi Kurdistan. This picture is very important to me. It makes me happy because it reminds me how I helped many people as an ambulance driver. People used to call me for help and I was there. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was very busy especially. My salary was very low, but I never regretted any of it. I was happy because I was helping people. I did this job for eight years, and I hope I can do it again someday, maybe in England, but I don’t know if I’ll be given the opportunity.”
‘I was a professional football player’
Dyo, 25, from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq:
“I was a professional football player back in Kurdistan, I played for 15 years, even for the national team. I was a goalkeeper. My phone’s wallpaper is an image of Zidane, my favourite player. In 2006, when France lost in the World Cup final against Italy, I was so sad I didn’t eat for an entire day.
“Before coming here, I was in Germany for one year, but then they wanted to send me back to Bulgaria, the first country I arrived in [because of the Dublin regulation], so I left to Italy, and stayed there for two years, mostly in the northern city of Bolzano.
“I come from Soran in Iraqi Kurdistan, I left because all my friends left as well for Europe. I plan on going back now because my mother is very sick, and I really miss her and the rest of my family.
“I regret leaving Kurdistan now. When I was in Bulgaria, I regretted it especially because they put me in prison and gave me one small can of fish and a piece of bread in 24 hours. If I went back halfway, I’d feel ashamed. What would my friends think about me? If I spoke to my friends from back home now, trying to go to Europe, I would tell them ‘don’t go’. For some people, it works out, but for me, life was better over there.”
‘Since I left Afghanistan, I’ve had this necklace with me’
Senzai, 29, from Afghanistan:
“Eight months ago, I walked from Afghanistan to Austria, passing through Iran, Turkey, Greece and more. It was only after Croatia that I came by car, and also from Austria to France. I had no money to move another way. I left with a friend from Afghanistan, but we separated in Tehran. I’ve been in Grande Synthe for one month and I’ve already tried to cross two times. I can’t really explain why I want to go to England, I have some friends there, I’ve heard good things about it.
“Since I left Afghanistan, I’ve had this necklace with me, of the Afghan flag. In Hungary, when the police stopped us and stripped us of everything, I had to hide it. This necklace [is] so important to me because in Afghanistan we’ve given so many lives because of it, and now the Taliban don’t accept it. This flag is all of my heart. It’s made me very upset that the Taliban has taken over and removed it everywhere.”
‘A phone smuggler took my phone away’
Nowaz, 28, from Afghanistan:
“I am from the Logar province in Afghanistan, I was a farmer from a very young age. I’ve been in Grande Synthe for one week. I left Afghanistan five months ago. It was very dangerous for me, and I was scared of the Taliban. I think England is a good country, and I want to spend the rest of my life there. I like the law there, and I think people have a good sense of humanity.
“The phone was the most important thing for me to have, I could contact friends and family in Afghanistan, and find out information in Europe. But I was in Austria a week ago, and a smuggler pushed me and took my phone away, without reason. Now that I’m in Grande Synthe, without a phone, the few friends I have are the most important thing to me.”
Poorly pitched tents shake in the wind as the rain beats down on the only place that refugees in northern France can call home. Following extensive evictions of the small areas where it is possible to assemble a makeshift camp, families and individuals in Calais and Dunkirk who are from Sudan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Syria and Eritrea suffer as winter takes hold.
There are still more than 400 people living rough in this part of France. Following the destruction of ‘the Jungle’ in 2017, conditions for vulnerable people hoping for a safe life are worse than ever.
Autumn has seen a further deterioration of circumstances that affect living conditions. As reported by aid organisation Calais Food Collective ( see:https://calaisfood.wixsite.com/calaisfood ) in September this year, the local politicians in the seaside city made it illegal to provide food in certain areas. Alongside these new regulations, the French riot police, the CRS, have been monitoring, questioning and disrupting their volunteers during food distributions in the new, permitted locations.
Neli Ban, a volunteer with another organisation, appreciates the growing problems that winter is causing. “A flimsy tent they sleep in must feel like it’s about to fly off, and they have nowhere to dry their soaked clothes and shoes.” Evictions of the basic camps took place last week. Tents and sleeping bags were taken or ruined, pots and pans were confiscated. Removing the ability to be able to cook is a multifaceted problem. Not only has your daily social activity been taken away, but you must now walk several kilometres in order to stand in a queue to receive a meal, and you have to do this three times a day.
As conditions in France worsen, so do the chances of being able to reach the UK. On 28th October, reports of a family from Kurdistan drowning in the sea shook the migrant community on both sides of the Channel. People from aid organisations together with refugees paid tribute to the adults and children whose lives were lost in the search for safety.
Another cause for concern are the decisions being made in the UK parliament. Family reunification is at risk after the Brexit transition period ends, as the Dubs Amendment has been repeatedly voted down, even after this tragic news. “If there are safe routes,” said Lord Alf Dubs, former child refugee, “then people will take them. If there are not, people will risk their lives.”
The penalty of a failed attempt weighs heavily on those in Calais. Fear of the water has to be weighed against the hope of joining family and having a new life. It takes many months and many risks for people to get even as far as France, the route from Greece through the Balkans will have included scaling mountains and facing the notorious Croatian border authority whose brutal and illegal actions are well documented ( see:https://.www.borderviolence.eu). Another winter on the road, the elements and the police to contend with, is no way for Europe to treat vulnerable people from war-torn countries.
French president Emmanuel Macron looks at the Mer de glace glacier from the Montenvers railway station near Chamonix, at the Mont Blanc mountain range in the French Alps, February 13, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
CHAMONIX, France, Feb 13 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday the melting of Mont Blanc’s main glacier is irrefutable proof of global warming, as he sought to burnish his environmentalist credentials ahead of municipal elections next month.
During a visit to the “Mer de Glace” (sea of ice) – France’s largest glacier which has shrunk dramatically in recent years – Macron met scientists and announced new protective measures for the area, including higher fines for littering.
“What we are seeing with the evolution of the glacier is irrefutable proof of global warming and climate change and the toppling of an entire ecosystem,” Macron said in a speech after going up the glacier.
The Alpine glacier above the mountain town of Chamonix has been a tourist draw since the 19th century, but over the course of the 20th century it lost an average thickness of 50 metres (164 ft). The shrinking has sped up in the past two decades.
“A landscape is being deformed before our eyes and species are disappearing quickly. The fight for biodiversity is a fight for our own survival and is inseparable from the fight against global warming,” Macron said.
Macron launched a new national biodiversity agency and gave an overview of his government’s environmental achievements, including scrapping disputed airport, mining and shopping mall projects. He also listed several international summits in 2020 where he said France would try to convince other nations to join its fight against global warming.
Critics say that following the success of France’s green party at the 2019 European Union election and with municipal elections due in March, the Chamonix visit and other ecology-themed actions are an attempt at courting the green vote.
“We’d prefer that he’d be in his office working on ending subsidies for the fossil fuel industries and tax breaks for trucking rather than doing electoral tourism on the Mont Blanc,” Greenpeace France climate campaigner Clement Senechal said.
French weekly Le Point said the launch of the biodiversity agency is largely symbolic and that the upcoming municipal elections seem to be a bigger priority for Macron than taking action on climate change.
Lawmakers for Macron’s centrist party have said that at a meeting with Macron earlier this week the president had told them that ecology would be a key pillar for his policies in the second half of his five-year mandate, which ends in May 2022.
On Friday, on the sidelines of a visit to Munich, Macron will meet leaders of Germany’s Green party.
GETTY IMAGESImage captionBananas are a big export industry for Martinique and nearly all are shipped to France.
The French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique thrive on their image as idyllic sun, sea and sand destinations for tourists.
But few visitors are aware that these lush, tropical islands have a chronic pollution problem.
A pesticide linked to cancer – chlordecone – was sprayed on banana crops on the islands for two decades and now nearly all the adult local residents have traces of it in their blood.
French President Emmanuel Macron has called it an “environmental scandal” and said the state “must take responsibility”. He visited Martinique last year and was briefed on the crisis on the islands, known in France as the Antilles.
The French parliament is holding a public inquiry which will report its findings in December.
“We found anger and anxiety in the Antilles – the population feel abandoned by the republic,” said Guadeloupe MP Justine Benin, who is in charge of the inquiry’s report.
“They are resilient people, they’ve been hit by hurricanes before, but their trust needs to be restored,” she told the BBC.
Large tracts of soil are contaminated, as are rivers and coastal waters. The authorities are trying to keep the chemical out of the food chain, but it is difficult, as much produce comes from smallholders, often sold at the roadside.
Drinking water is considered safe, as carbon filters are used to remove contaminants.
In the US a factory producing chlordecone – sold commercially as kepone – was shut down in 1975 after workers fell seriously ill there. But Antilles banana growers continued to use the pesticide.
At least three people have died after floods hit the south of France, France’s Interior Ministry confirmed.
About 2,000 firefighters and rescue workers were deployed to the region, where rivers burst their banks, blocked roads and caused significant damage.
It is not known if a 68-year-old woman who was swept away from her home in Béziers is among the fatalities.
Flash floods also devastated parts of northern Italy and Spain this week, where three others died.
In a statement, the French interior ministry said the heavy rain was now moving down towards northern Corsica.
“Over the past three days, particularly severe storms have hit the south of France, causing three deaths and serious damage to the region,” the French Interior Ministry said in a statement.
“The rain continues and is now affecting the eastern coast of Haute-Corse. Everyone must remain vigilant.”
The town of Béziers saw 198mm (nearly 8in) of rain – or about two months’ average rainfall – in just six hours on Wednesday morning.
According to local media, the woman who was swept away by the floods in the town was found unconscious in a vineyard, about 100m (330ft) away. She was then taken by helicopter to hospital in Montpellier.
Dramatic images posted on social media showed cars submerged as the waters of the River Orb rose to dangerous levels.
In Hérault, forecasters said 240mm of rain fell in a 24-hour period – a 50-year record. Local prefect Jacques Witkowski told reporters that shelter had been given to more than 1,000 people whose homes had been flooded.