Le Rapport Sauvé

Jean Marc Sauve CIASE France abuse

Former French priest, Father Bernard Preynat, spent over a decade abusing boys in a scout troop. A quarter-century later, some of the survivors of Father Preynat’s crimes found each other, and they organized a group.

Their courage in speaking about what had happened to them ultimately led to the production of a movie, By the Grace of God.

Father Preynat was indicted, both civilly and canonically. The sitting Archbishop of Lyons, who had perpetuated the cover-up, was also indicted. Father Preynat was ultimately defrocked and jailed.

All of this made the 2018 “Catholic Summer of Shame” particularly intense in France. That fall, the French bishops’ conference (known by the French acronym CEF) ceded to intense public pressure and commissioned an independent study on the problem of sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church.

The independent commission came to be known as CIASE. The Church provided 2.6 million euros; the members of the commission gave 1.2 million euros-worth of volunteer time. Their final report, released this past Tuesday, has generally been called Le Rapport Sauvé in France, after Jean-Marc Sauvé, the career government official who chaired the commission.

This sounds like our American “John Jay Report” of nearly two decades ago. But Le Rapport Sauvé contains much more information and insight. Our John Jay researchers worked only with information provided by US dioceses, and all the documents handed over to them had all names blocked out. (And let’s not forget that the most-prominent churchman involved in commissioning the John-Jay report was Theodore McCarrick.)

The CIASE in France, on the other hand, apparently had free access to all diocesan and religious-order archives, including secret archives. And the CIASE also beat the bushes for victims to come forward.

This transformed the CIASE’s effort into something fundamentally different from what the John Jay researchers did here in the US. The John Ray report gives statistics without any human connection to the victims; Le Rapport Sauvé, on the other hand, became primarily a means for survivors to speak the truth about what had happened to them.

As the English summary of the French report notes:

The CIASE, therefore, is not blind to the fact that, even if representatives of the French Catholic Church wanted the Commission to be set up, it is mainly thanks to the determined action of victims of violence that it actually came to be created, and it is beholden to these people to study their cases.

International news organizations have covered the release of the CIASE report, and for good reason. These media reports have focused primarily on the statistics provided by the CIASE.

The CIASE report grants that its staggering estimate of over 300,000 total victims of sexual violence does not square easily with the number of perpetrators reported. It would work out to 70 victims per criminal, a number higher than is generally thought to be normal.

On the other hand, though, experience has taught us that almost all statistical analyses of criminal sex-abuse actually under-count the real totals.

The report notes:

Such statistics must be treated with caution. The silence of the victims and of the Church inevitably limits our knowledge of the facts.

Our friend Chris O’Leary has done a helpful short video to explain how the average criminal priest sex-abuser could in fact have 70 victims or more in total:

But Le Rapport Sauvé offers much, much more than just numbers. It appears to contain genuine insight into the problem, offered with both humility and conviction. I for one believe that this report is one of the best things to happen in our Church in our lifetimes.

The CIASE promises that a full English translation of the report will be available on-line by the end of the year. In the meantime, I offer some quotes from the 30-page English summary.

Faced with this scourge, for a very long time the Catholic Church’s immediate reaction was to protect itself as an institution, and it has shown complete, even cruel, indifference to those having suffered abuse…

It was only from 2010 that the Church began to recognize victims when it started reporting cases to the judicial system, imposing canonical sanctions and accepted that dealing with aggressors should no longer be an internal affair.

It is not that the violence was organized or accepted by the institution (although this did happen in a very small number of communities or institutions), rather that the Church did not have any clear idea how to prevent such violence or indeed even see it, let alone deal with it in a fair and determined manner.

The Church did not have any clear idea how to prevent such violence or indeed even see it, let alone deal with it in a fair and determined manner.

canon law codex canonici

Canon Law

This past summer, we took note of how our Holy Father revised the Code of Canon Law. The CIASE, however, finds the revision wholly inadequate to deal with the reality of the crisis:

In analyzing factors specific to the Catholic Church which might help explain the sheer scale of the phenomenon, and the Church’s inappropriate reaction to it, the Commission firstly looked into the specificities of canon law, as to a certain degree the inadequacy of the Church’s response to the phenomenon lies in the shortcomings of this law.

Canon law was conceived, above all, to protect the sacraments and reform the sinner. The victim has no place in this law. Canon law, even its criminal aspect, is totally ill-adapted to the repression of sexual violence, which, incidentally, it never refers to by name. The Commission reached the conclusion that canon law is entirely inadequate with regard to fair-trial standards and human rights in a matter as sensitive as the sexual abuse of children.

Despite taking into account the reform of the criminal section of the Code of Canon Law due to come into force on 8 December 2021, in the light of the bleak observations made in the second part of the report, the CIASE nonetheless pleads for a wide-ranging overhaul of canon law in criminal matters, and in dealing with and sanctioning offences. This should begin with a clear definition of the offences in the Code of Canon Law and their implementing legislation, specifying applicable reference standards by establishing a scale of the gravity of offences and by distributing a collection of case law in the matter.

Secondly, canonical criminal procedure needs to be reworked and aligned with basic fair-trial rules, thereby giving victims a place in canonical procedure, which is not the case today.

confessional

The Seal of the Confessional

In France, this has quickly become the most controversial part of the report:

The Church must issue precise directives to confessors regarding the seal of confession. Confessors must not be allowed to derogate, on the grounds of the sanctity of the seal of confession, from the obligations provided for by the [French] Criminal Code, which are compliant with those of natural and divine law, which provides for the protection of a person’s life and dignity, to report to the competent authorities cases of sexual violence inflicted against a child or a vulnerable person.

This is not to question the seal of confession generally; but within the scope of sexual violence inflicted against children, a reminder is issued that the letter and the spirit of the law of the French Republic (Articles 223-6, 226-14, 434-1 and 434-3 of the Criminal Code) apply to every single person on French territory.

[The French laws cited require anyone aware of imminent danger of physical harm to another to alert the authorities.]

The French Bishops’ Conference quibbled with this recommendation. I think that we should recognize the point: It is precisely the inviolability of the seal of the confessional that produces a forum in which a criminal might confess everything. (And in which a victim might begin the process of speaking the truth about what happened.) Without the absolute secrecy, such conversations cannot happen. 

A French government minister has asked the president of the Bishops’ Conference to come and explain; the Archbishop agreed. The meeting is scheduled for next week.

I think this particular controversy will blow over. The French government issued a finding in 2004 that the secrecy of the confessional does not infringe on mandatory-reporting laws.

In another context–implementing Child-Protection policies–the CIASE adds this sensitive observation:

While it is convinced of the merits of such policies of prevention and practical provisions, the CIASE is not blind to the risk entailed by undue rigidity and “protocolization,” so little in keeping with the vocation
of the Church–indeed with any healthy human relationship–and which could potentially asphyxiate relationships. Similarly, too much transparency can be detrimental to intimacy and lead to a paradoxical
climate of surveillance and suspicion. The balance is fragile but necessary in order to clamp down on risk without distorting human relationships.

Ecclesiastical Obedience

The content of seminarian training should include the importance of critical thinking, particularly about issues of authority and obedience…

During all types of catechism, the faithful, particularly children and teenagers, should be taught the importance of listening to one’s conscience with critical intelligence under all circumstances.

With Chris O’Leary, we have earlier considered here the path of “transitional justice.” The CIASE does not use that term, but instead proposes:

“Reparative Justice”

The recommendations made by the CIASE to try and overcome the trauma caused by sexual violence, and the shroud of silence covering it, are not conceived in a spirit of “turning the page,” because in all the testimonials–which the Commission very much hopes echo loudly through its report–the first cry is for justice.

In other words, before proclaiming “it must never happen again,” the “it” has to be recognized, acknowledged, and described, those responsible for “it” need to be designated and, in as far as is possible, reparation for “it’s” consequences need to be found.

Before proclaiming “it must never happen again,” the “it” has to be recognized, acknowledged, and described, those responsible for “it” need to be designated.

It is not enough for the Church to claim awareness, albeit too late in the day. Or to claim that the past is the past and that for today’s and tomorrow’s children and vulnerable persons the same mistakes will not be repeated. For such a discourse which is consistent with the logic of “helping” victims of historical abuse, more often than not time-barred by the [French] Criminal Code, perpetuates an attitude of non-recognition or denial of what really happened, characteristic of the Church during the period analyzed, and is used as an escape from genuinely dealing with the phenomenon.

This is why the Commission insists on the Church’s need for a process of truth and reparation and that it has to begin with the acknowledgement of responsibility which has so far been avoided.

I think the insight in these paragraphs is profound. Let’s give Chris O’Leary the last word here. He produced another video, reflecting on the CIASE report. It offers a stirring exhortation:

Guest Post: Priests Abuse Girls, Too

momby Ann White

Becky Ianni, third in Mark’s series of speakers and a leader in SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), will remind us that priests abuse girls as well as boys.

Consider, for example, a 7-year old girl in her first Communion dress. Her priest follows her into the bathroom of her house, calls her “the chosen one,” and puts his tongue in her mouth.

This little girl was Sheri Biasin of West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Her priest continued to abuse her until she was 12, at family picnics, sleepovers, and beach outings. He would touch her breasts, put his hand inside her bathing suit, rub up against her. 

This priest was a trusted family friend, often in Sheri’s home and along on family outings. He was considered a person who could do no wrong. Sheri remembers her family scurrying to tidy up when the priest was expected: “It was like God coming to the house.”

Like abused boys, girl victims suffer great trauma, requiring years of counseling, their lives wrenched out of normal shape. From the beginning, girls who suffer abuse struggle in their relationships with boys.

Becky Ianni: “I never dated in high school. I was too afraid… I didn’t get to go out and be nervous about my first kiss or hold anybody’s hand, but I really wanted to. But I couldn’t because I was too afraid.”

Barbara Blaine
the late Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP

Abused girls grow up feeling dirty, as though they themselves were responsible for what happened to them.

Founder of SNAP Barbara Blaine spoke of feeling shame and guilt because she was raped by a priest who was her teacher. He took her and other girls from their classrooms in a Toledo, Ohio, Catholic school and raped them in his bedroom in the rectory. He raped Blaine repeatedly from her 7th-grade year until she was a senior in high school.

The criminal did the raping, but the victim felt the shame and the guilt.  Becky Ianni has this to say about her fear of dating: “I wasn’t afraid because of what would happen. I was afraid I couldn’t say no.”

The self-blame is worse for girls than for boys. Men examining an abuse case–church officials, attorneys, police–often think an attack can be caused by a girl’s seductiveness.

Corinne Curley, a Kansas City attorney abused by a priest as a teenager, says: “They’re going to assume that you’re Lolita, a temptress.” Gary Schoener, a clinical psychologist in Minneapolis who has handled hundreds of clergy abuse cases, says, “Girls are asked what they were wearing. They’re accused of being seductive. This is routine.” Schoener reports that financial settlements tend to be smaller for female victims.

This blaming of the female victim frequently occurs in sexual-abuse cases in general. But in priest sex-abuse cases, the victim-blaming gets even more perverse. It’s not just any man that “little Lolita” has “seduced.” It’s a sexually pure, celibate holy man. Barbara Blaine: “We’re treated like the evil sinner, like we caused the good, holy priest to sin.”

According to the John Jay Report, commissioned by the US Catholic Bishops, the most likely age of victims, both girls and boys, is between 11 and 14. But girl victims tend to be younger than boys: The percentage of abused girls under age 8 is higher than the percentage of boys under age 8.  Priest abusers with large numbers of victims tend to target boys, establishing what some have called a “lifestyle,” whereas a girl is more likely than a boy to be an abuser’s only victim. 

In society as a whole, the overwhelming majority of sex-abuse victims are female. But the John Jay Report gives the well-known statistic: in priest sex-abuse cases, 81% of the victims are male, 19% female.

These John-Jay numbers, however, may be misleading. Two reasons:

1. The report covers five decades, the second half of the last century. For the first 35 years of that period, the Catholic Church did not have girl altar servers. The sexual abuse of minors is a crime of opportunity. Yes, priest sex-abusers in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s had the opportunity to prey on girls in school or at home. But not in one of the primary venues of opportunity–the sacristy. (Credit to Chris O’Leary for pointing this out.)

2. Second reason the John-Jay Report may misrepresent the true boy/girl percentage: There is a higher number of unreported cases with girl victims. Barbara Dorris, victim and SNAP leader, says that church officials are “more apt to write down, save, and take seriously the allegation” of the sexual abuse of a boy. 

All survivors of sex abuse, no matter male or female, live with continuing pain. Sue Archbold, an advocate for abuse victims who was sexually abused by a priest when she was a teenager, comments: “The traumatic suffering that comes from the abuse extends beyond any age or gender barrier.”

All priests who abuse a minor commit a heinous criminal act, no matter the sex of the victim. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual acts are inherently wrong, whereas heterosexual acts can be beautiful and holy. But heterosexual abuse of a minor is just as much a crime as homosexual abuse of a minor. All of these criminal offenses should be met with prompt, severe punishment.