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French abuse report authors respond to critics who challenged 330,000 victims estimate

CNA Staff   By CNA Staff

Pope Francis and four French bishops gather for silent prayer for victims of abuses committed by members of the clergy, prior to the pope's general audience at the Vatican Oct. 6, 2021. The bishops were visiting Rome following a report on sexual abuse in France that estimates more than 200,000 children were abused by priests since 1950, and more than 100,000 others were abused by lay employees of church institutions. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Paris, France, Feb 10, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The authors of a landmark abuse report responded this week to critics who argued that they overestimated the number of victims in the French Catholic Church.

The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) issued a 53-page response on Feb. 7 to a 15-page critique signed by eight members of the prestigious Académie catholique de France that was reportedly sent to the Vatican.

The commission’s final report, published on Oct. 5, 2021, said that an estimated 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns from 1950 to 2020.

It added that when abuse by other Church workers was also taken into account, “the estimated number of child victims rises to 330,000 for the whole of the period.”

In a critique published last November, the eight academy members questioned “the methodology of the quantitative survey that led to the figure of 330,000 victims” and accused the report of lacking “scientific rigor.”

Alongside its detailed response to the academy, CIASE published a 12-page summary, as well as a note and expert report on the statistics it had cited.

The documents explained that the figures of 216,000 children and 330,000 total victims were taken from a sample of 28,010 respondents over the age of 18.

The survey identified 171 victims of people connected with the Catholic Church, including 118 victims of abuse by clergy.

From these figures, the expert report said, researchers “deduced that the total number of victims in the French population over 18 years of age could be estimated at 330,000 (plus or minus 60,000 for the 95% confidence interval) when the perpetrators of the assaults are people connected with the Catholic Church (i.e. clerics and nuns, but also laypeople) and, among them, at 216,000 (plus or minus 50,000 for the 95% confidence interval) when the perpetrators are limited to clerics and nuns.”

Screenshot from CIASE Facebook page.
Screenshot from CIASE Facebook page.

The 53-page rebuttal, signed by CIASE president Jean-Marc Sauvé, said: “At the end of the careful examination of the analysis of the CIASE report, nothing remains of the very serious criticisms that were directed at this report by the Académie catholique.”

“The legitimate emotion aroused by the figures put forward was artificially focused on two of them, to the exclusion of all the others that helped to understand the magnitude of the tragedy experienced by a striking number of children in our society, and it did not justify either their obstinate denial or the attempts to disqualify them that we have witnessed.”

The expert report offered a nuanced assessment of the figures.

The authors said that “we cannot ensure that there is no significant bias affecting these estimates,” but also that “we cannot affirm that the estimates produced are far from the true values.”

They added that, “as a matter of principle, all statistics derived from a survey are subject to errors of many kinds, and that all reasoning about quality is done ‘on average’: even with the implementation of extremely efficient probability sampling, there is never a total guarantee, because there is always an error due to sampling and non-response, and at most, it can be said that the estimate is ‘(very) probably’ close to reality.” The academy members’ critique prompted a backlash. Several members of the organization, founded in 2008, resigned, according to La Croix.

The French Catholic daily reported that among those tendering their resignations were Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops’ conference, and Sister Véronique Margron, president of the Conference of Religious of France (CORREF), both of whom attended the CIASE report’s launch.

Pope Francis responded to the report the day after its publication, describing it as “a moment of shame.”

During an in-flight press conference on Dec. 6, 2021, the pope said that he hadn’t read the text, but would shortly be meeting French bishops and would ask them “to explain to me what is wrong.”

He also cautioned against “mixing time periods” when judging the Church’s response to abuse.

Pope Francis meets French bishops at the Vatican, Dec. 13, 2021. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis meets French bishops at the Vatican, Dec. 13, 2021. Vatican Media.

“When doing these studies we have to be careful in the interpretations that we do over long periods of time,” he commented.

“When you do it over such a long time, there is a risk of confusing the way you perceive the problem of a time period 70 years before.”

“I just want to say this as a principle: A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours.”

The pope reportedly told French bishops on Dec. 13 that he was willing to meet the report’s authors.

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  1. Are there real experts in any field? Since Vatican II the church has failed to do due diligence in verifying if possible what the so called experts are telling them. The Church lost it’s ability to critique what the experts are telling them. Take for instance the abuse crisis here. Experts in field of psychology advised the bishops abusers could be treated (fixed) and put back into ministry. Without any questioning by church authorities, she did this. Case after case, and not just the abuse crisis, the church still listens to so called experts without relying on it’s ability to discern the truth about any issue. Francis is completely into listening to experts and then doing what they tell him to do in all fields. We need to be more skeptical and use critical thinking relying more on the Holy Spirit and less on the spirit of the age we are living in.

    • Very good point, tad.

      Again and again we see, in virtually every field, on virtually every issue — from COVID to climate change, from psychology to economics to building design — experts are just plain wrong, time after time after time.

      Why? Nobody is locked into conventional wisdom like an expert.

      No one has less perspective, less objectivity, less imagination, than an expert.

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