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French bishop admits Church has "neglected" victims of sexual abuse

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Georges Pontier, Archbishop of Marseille ©Diocèse de Marseille

As bishops from around the world gather at the Vatican this week for a summit on tackling the wave of child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, the head of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF) has lashed out against “unhealthy veneration” of the Church which can stop victims of sexual abuse from speaking out.


For Archbishop Georges Pontier there's been too much silence around sexual abuse within the Church. In an interview with Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche he spoke of a "collective sin” and a system that “neglects” what victims have to say.

“In some families, deeply Christian parents have stopped their children from speaking out,” he told the paper. “It’s a collective sin. The veneration of the Church is unhealthy and can prevent people speaking out.”

These are difficult times for the Church of France, shaken by several scandals. A recent poll found most French Catholics support a parliamentary probe.

Pontier helped create the Sauvé independent commission of inquiry into sex abuse against minors in the Catholic Church, launched on 7 Feburary.

He recognises that not enough attention has been paid to listening to victims of sexual abuse.

“There is something systemic in the negligence, the weight and the defence of institutions regarding victims […] The Church must accept its responsibilities.

“We can’t just blame, say it’s the media or the outside world that’s got a grudge against the Church.”

Controversy over new film about victims of pedophilia

Arguably the biggest scandal in recent years is that of Father Bernard Preynat, accused of molesting more than 70 young scouts in the 1980s and 1990s in his diocese of Lyon.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin and five others are currently appearing before the criminal court of Lyon under charges of failing to report Preynat for sexual abuse of minors.

Preynat has been under judicial supervision since his indictment in 2016 and is due to go on trial this year.

The story of how the Church tried to cover up the scandal, told through the eyes of the victims, is the subject of François Ozon’s film Grace à Dieu (By the Grace of God). On Saturday it won the Grand Jury prize at the Berlin Film Festival.

The film is due to be released on 20 February but Preynat has gone to court to try and block its release in France on the basis it breaches presumption of innocence.

The court will deliver its verdict on Monday 18 February.

At a press conference ahead of the film’s world premiere, Ozon said he’d remained true to the facts and his portrayal of what happened could not have an impact on the trial.

"Everything I talk about in the film has already appeared in the French press," he pointed out.

While Pontier wants victims' voices to be better heard, this does not to extend to hearing them represented in the film; he believes it must be postponed.

"The timing is astounding," he told JDD. "There is little doubt Father Preynat committed reprehensible acts. [But] there must be a minimum of respect for the presumption of innocence.”

French ambassador to the Vatican under investigation

French prosecutors announced Friday they were investigating a sexual assault complaint made against the Vatican's envoy to Paris, 74-year-old Luigi Ventura.

Ventura is accused of molesting an official at the Paris mayor's office, according to a judicial source.

Once more Archibishop Pontier calls for caution.

“If acts were committed which could have profoundly traumatised someone, then that would of course be shocking,” he said. “I know Archbishop Ventura and for the moment I am presuming he is innocent.”