The numbers: France's report on church sex abuse of children

France’s first major study of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church revealed shockingly large estimates of victims and adds to global understanding of the depth of the problem

Via AP news wire
Tuesday 05 October 2021 17:35 BST
France Church Sex Abuse
France Church Sex Abuse (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

France’s first major study of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church revealed shockingly large estimates of victims and adds to global understanding of the depth of the problem. Here is a look at some key findings:


Based on projections, the independent study estimates some 330,000 children overall were victims of sexual abuse linked to the church from 1950-2020. Of those, it estimates that some 216,000 were abused by priests, and the rest by other church figures such as scout leaders or camp counselors.

The study’s authors estimate 80% of the abused children were boys. A broader study of sexual abuse of children in France found that 75% of the overall victims were girls.

France has had several legal cases involving church sexual abuse, but most incidents investigated for the study happened too long ago to prosecute.


The report released Tuesday estimates that about 2,900-3,200 male clergy members were behind the abuse, of about 115,000 members overall over the period.

That would mean each abuser targeted an unusually high number of victims. The authors point to a culture of impunity that allowed abusive priests to stay in positions of authority over children, and note that the real number of abusive priests is almost certainly higher because of the difficulties in establishing blame.

Broken down by decade, the report says the number of abusive priests was worst in the 1950s and 1960s and later diminished.


The estimates are based on interviews with more than 200 victims, written accounts from more than 2,800 victims, 6,400 calls to a special hotline, and in-depth study of some 1,600 cases. Dozens of clergy members were interviewed for the study, including several convicted of abuse.

In addition, the report’s authors commissioned a poll of 28,000 people by a leading French polling agency about sexual abuse of children, to put the abuse in context. The agency then made overall projections of the number of church sex abuse victims based on demographic data. The report’s authors say the overall estimate of 216,000 victims of priests could be larger or smaller by as many as 50,000 people.

Investigations in other countries used different methodologies when announcing estimates of Catholic church abuse victims, making comparison difficult.


The report's authors released dozens of recommendations to France’s Catholic Church leadership and the French government, including that they should compensate the victims, especially for those whose cases are too old to prosecute.

They are also urging strict measures to vet clergy and people who work in the church with children; clear ways for victims to safely and immediately report abuse; and a sweeping review of church teachings, notably its treatment of sexuality and sexual violence.

The French Bishops Conferences immediately asked the victims for forgiveness and is studying next steps. The church has stayed notably silent about compensation.


United States: There’s no official total estimate of the number of victims of sex abuse by Catholic clergy in the U.S. About 13,000 allegations of sex abuse were lodged against Catholic clergy through 2019, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate based at Georgetown University. Many U.S. dioceses have established compensation programs for victims with credible claims of abuse, and some have sought bankruptcy protection.

Germany: A church-commissioned report concluded in 2018 that at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014. Nearly a third were altar boys. In January, a new system drawn up by the church to compensate abuse victims took effect, providing for payments of up to about 50,000 euros (about $58,000) to each person.

Australia: Australia’s government launched a four-year national investigation into all forms of institutional abuse and found that 4,444 people were abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions between 1980 and 2015. The Royal Commission investigation deduced that 7% of Catholic priests in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of sexually abusing children.

Ireland: Government-mandated reviews found that thousands of children were molested and raped by priests or physically abused in church-run schools, while bishops worked to protect the predators and the church’s reputation. Hundreds of priests have been accused of child abuse but only a small proportion – estimated to be under 100 -- have been convicted.

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