Gathered in Lourdes, the bishops expected on the prevention of sexual violence

heavy bishops

Follow-up to the Sauvé report, act II: the bishops meet in Lourdes from Tuesday to Friday to vote on new measures against sexual violence in the Church, while the faithful await "courageous decisions" and a report submitted upstream evokes innovative avenues.

November 2021 was a first milestone. The 120 or so members of the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) had recognized the responsibility of the institution and the "systemic" nature of child criminal acts.

A first step, just one month after the report of the Sauvé Commission on the extent of pedocrime in the Catholic Church for 70 years, the publication of which caused an explosion.

The episcopate then voted to launch a reparation body for the victims. And created nine working groups, responsible for reflecting on fundamental reforms, under the responsibility of lay people and with victims.

The latter returned their copy, in the form of a 270-page report, received by each of the bishops on March 15.

"Sharing of good practices in the face of reported cases", "accompaniment of bishops or priests in their functions", but also of "contested"... The proposals respond "to the 'systemic' character highlighted" in 2021, says Hervé Balladur, a layman appointed by the CEF to coordinate this work. "When sexual abuse is committed, there is never just one cause."

Fight against self

Among the proposals, several advocate "strengthening" the place of the laity and in particular that of women within the authorities of the Church or in the liturgy, a measure which would make it possible to fight against self-segregation and to limit the risks of drifts.

“We want there to be, as in companies, regular evaluations of the exercise of the mission of priests and bishops”, specifies to AFP Pascal Wintzer, archbishop of Poitiers. Measures are also aimed at combating their "loneliness" in business management and decision-making.

Two recommendations stand out: a working group suggests “requesting” the Vatican on the possibility of allowing a woman to become a deacon (who assists the priest during celebrations) and ordaining married men as priests.

These proposals, however, require the agreement of the Vatican. However, Pope Francis did not retain the idea of ​​allowing married men to become priests, mentioned during the Synod on the Amazon in 2019. According to Bishop Wintzer, who defends this last idea, there is little chance that 'they are taken up by the bishops, most remaining "attached to the current framework".

"Turn the page"

Tuesday and Wednesday, the bishops will work with 75 members of the working groups, in workshops, on these proposals. It is difficult to know how many will be put to the vote at the end of the session.

"The bishops had little time to take ownership of the report and will have little time on the spot", observes a source familiar with the matter, who fears a desire on the part of some to "turn the page" on sexual violence.

"We expect courageous, clear and effective decisions", declares Alix Huon, member of the lay collective "Agir pour notre Eglise", very attentive to these subjects. “There is a very serious crisis, we need awareness”.

In Germany, bishops, priests, religious and laity gathered in synod for four years, did not hesitate in mid-March to speak out in favor of the possibility for women to become deacons. They also asked the pope to examine the obligation of celibacy for priests.

The Sauvé report estimates that 330.000 people over the age of 18 have been victims, minors, of sexual assault by a priest, deacon, religious or nun, or a lay person working in the Church, since 1950.

The fall 2022 session of the CEF was akin to a great unpacking: its president Eric de Moulins-Beaufort had revealed the "reprehensible" conduct of the former archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard with a teenager. And counted eight bishops emeritus having business or had business with justice.

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

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