French bishops have announced plans to establish an “independent” commission to look into the sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church dating back as far as 1950.
The appointed panel would “seek to understand the reasons which led to the way these cases were handled” by the Church, the Conference of French Bishops said in a statement on Wednesday.
The conference pledged to publish a report outlining the commission’s findings within two years. Details, including the name of the person spearheading the investigation, will be announced in the coming days, it added.
The statement came as French bishops held their plenary assembly in the holy French city of Lourdes, where they received a support from Pope Francis, according to Vatican News.
In the message, signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, the Pope encouraged the bishops to “continue to implement a ‘zero tolerance’ stance against sexual abuse committed by members of the Church.”
Reckoning for abusive priests
After decades of silence and denial, the Catholic Church is increasingly coming to terms with historical sex abuse within its ranks worldwide.
The Pope has spoken of his shame over the “appalling crimes” committed in recent decades and called for forgiveness from those who had suffered. He said meeting with sexual abuse survivors in Ireland in August had had a “profound effect” on him.
Shortly after the Pontiff’s trip to Ireland, the Australian Catholic Church said it would accept “98%” of recommendations made by a high-level government inquiry into child sexual abuse, which uncovered shocking accounts of abuse inside Australian religious institutions — although it stopped short of requiring priests to violate the sanctity of confession.
In September, the US Catholic bishops’ conference issued a dramatic apology for the role bishops played in the church’s abuse scandal and announced new initiatives to hold abusive or negligent bishops accountable.
“Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole,” said the administrative committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement.
“They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers.”
Last month, the Catholic diocese in San Jose, California, released the names of 15 former priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse with children.
“I express my deepest apologies for the actions of those who were in positions of authority and who violated that sacred trust by abusing children,” Bishop Patrick McGrath said. “The sexual abuse of children and young people is an appalling crime and a sin. When these perpetrators are members of the clergy, there are not only psychological wounds but spiritual wounds.”