On October 5, 2021, a long-awaited Report was published and presented to the French press, the result of the work of an “Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church” (CIASE) chaired by Jean-Marc Sauvé, an authoritative former president of the Council of State. The Report had been commissioned two years earlier by the French Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Women and Men Religious to study more deeply the history of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable persons from 1950 to the present. The response in the French media, and internationally as well was very strong. The public and Catholics in particular were shocked, and there was no lack of both appreciation and criticism of the Report and those who commissioned it. The Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Religious held their Assemblies in November, expressing their own reactions and taking timely action in response to many of the Commission’s recommendations.
Reports of independent commissions
The Sauvé Commission was not the first independent Commission to study the question of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, nor was the French Bishops’ Conference the first to entrust research in this field to such a Commission. Mention can be made of the studies carried out on a national basis on behalf of the Bishops’ Conferences in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as that carried out in Australia – not only involving the Catholic Church, but other institutions as well – by a Royal Commission. A number of other investigations have been carried out on individual dioceses, regions or more specific areas in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, and elsewhere. Each of these investigations has had its own specific goals and methodologies, so they are not easily comparable with one another, but they have contributed greatly to a deeper understanding of the problems and of the measures taken to address them.
The work of the French Commission is noteworthy for several aspects, among which we note: the commitment to collect and listen to the testimonies of victims; the enlargement of the study to include adults in a vulnerable situation; the wide and open access to church archives; the examination of the evolution of the Church’s way of dealing with the situation and its effectiveness; and a large number of recommendations (45) on a wide range of issues.