While many dioceses and national bishops’ conferences around the world have created compensation programs for victims, the French Catholic Church had been reluctant to follow suit because it does not acknowledge that bishops are automatically responsible for the wrongdoing of their priests.
“When somebody working for a company commits pedophilia, his boss is not necessarily regarded as responsible,” Neymon said.
Now, under pressure from victims whose cases have exceeded the statute of limitations, French bishops say they are taking action and looking at other countries for inspiration.
“We consulted with the Swiss, the Belgians, the Americans, the Irish,” Neymon said. “In Belgium and Switzerland, the state has been strongly involved. We need to find out what fund will be supporting the scheme, and make sure we don’t announce things we cannot implement. The French church is poor, and we have to watch every penny.”
Francois Devaux, from the French victims’ group La Parole Libérée, or Liberated Word, said the church’s resistance to awarding money to victims stems in part from its reluctance to admit a collective guilt.
“Beyond the financial support for the victims to heal themselves, financial compensation implies one thing: To recognize the church moral’s responsibility,” Devaux told the AP. “And the church finds it hard to do so.”
Ahead of the three-day Vatican summit on sex abuse that began Thursday, the president of the bishop’s conference, Archbishop Georges Pontier, met with four victims, including a 70-year-old man who was abused when he was 8 and who wept at the memory. Neymon said the victims pushed for financial and spiritual reparation, and submitted a list of demands to Pontier, who said he would push for changes in the church’s canon law at the Vatican summit.
Among other things, Neymon said Pontier would ask to dispense the Catholic Church’s own statute of limitations for sexual abuse, which is 20 years after the victim turns 18. This would allow the Vatican office charged with defending Catholic doctrine, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to still investigate the older cases.
“Even after 20 or 30 years, one must be entitled to accuse the priests who might have committed such acts,” Neymon said. “The faith of many has been damaged.”