The announcement comes a month after a major investigation by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in Church (CIASE) revealed that an estimated 330,000 children have been victims of sexual abuse within the French institution since 1950.
France’s top bishop, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said in a statement on Monday that the senior clergy meeting in the holy site of Lourdes had recognised the church’s institutional responsibility.
The Church has decided “to go on a path of recognition and reparation”, Moulins-Beaufort, the archbishop of Reims, said.
The fund, set up by the bishops, will find finance to “whatever extent necessary through the divestment of real estate and other assets”, the archbishop said. The Catholic Church is also considering taking out loans for the fund if needed, he said, though he did not mention the size of the fund or the properties that may be sold.
The bishops have also decided to ask the pope for intervention from special envoys who can help overlook and supervise each bishop’s and diocese's handling of cases individually, Moulins-Beaufort said.
The investigation in October showed that the French church showed “deep, total and even cruel indifference for years” and went ahead to protect itself instead of shielding the victims, which resulted in systemic abuse being covered up.
Terming the findings “a moment of shame”, Pope Francis had said then that he was saddened by the reports of sexual abuse rocking the religious institution.
“To the victims, I wish to express my sadness and my pain for the traumas they have endured and my shame, our shame, my shame that for so long the Church has been incapable of putting this at the centre of its concerns, assuring them of my prayers,” the Pope had said.
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