What the report on abuse in the French Catholic Church says to theology

By Massimo Faggioli, 20 October 2021
Mr. Jean-Mark Sauvé, president of Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE). Image: AFP or licensors/Vatican News


The CIASE commission’s report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France between 1950 and 2020 has been released on October 5, 2021, and will have effects, at the moment difficult to be predicted, on the ecclesial discourse not only in France, but also at a global level.

RELATED: Pope prays for victims following report on clerical sexual abuse in France

The commission’s chairman, Jean-Marc Sauvè, stated during the press conference that “we need to get rid of the idea that sexual violence in the Catholic Church has been completely eradicated and that the problem is behind us: no, the problem remains.” The report also mentions that sexual violence is “significantly” higher in church settings than in other social circles such as schools or summer camps, with the exception of the family, which is the place where the risk of sexual abuse remains the highest. Thus, there is still an urgent problem of prevention and repression of the phenomenon.

But the CIASE report is also a document that raises serious theological questions for theology: they will have to be addressed by a theology that has among its audiences not only the academy, but also the church and the public sphere. This brief article proposes, without any pretense of being exhaustive or definitive, to begin to make a first list of issues.

We need to remember the fact that both the German “Synodal Path” and the Plenary Council in Australia are incomprehensible when considered outside the context, in this last decade, of national inquiries into the abuse crisis. Theology needs to question and interrogate whether or not the link between the institutional and theological models adopted at the universal and local levels for the “Synodal Way 2021-2023” on the one side and the cataclysmic abuse crisis on the other side is appropriate. A key question that the CIASE report raises is whether mechanisms for representing the people of God, including victims, and the abuse crisis have adequate space in this synodal process.

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Massimo Faggioli is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University in Philadelphia. His most recent book is The Liminal Papacy of Pope Francis: Moving Toward Global Catholicity (Orbis Books). 

For a summary of the report and the recommendations that are relevant to all Catholics, read this article from Our Sunday Visitor.

With thanks to Concilium, a journal of Catholic and Ecumenical theological reflection, and Massimo Faggioli, where this article originally appeared.


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