France: The Sauvé Report or the Abuse of the Abuse (1)

December 06, 2021

On October 5, 2021, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), chaired by Jean-Marc Sauvé, published the report that the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) and by the Conference of Men and Women Religious of France (COREFF) had commissioned it to produce.

The following is an analysis by Fr. Arnaud Sélégny (SSPX).

The sentence fell like a cleaver: the president announced that 216,000 minors had been victims of assault by ecclesiastical staff or consecrated persons - priests, deacons, men or women religious - a figure which would rise to 330,000 if the lay staff attached to the Church were taken into consideration. These numbers obviously went off like a bomb. They were relayed and taken as final and firmly established.

The report also presents a series of explanatory causes, from which it draws a list of 45 recommendations to implement the suggestions, and the reforms it advocates.

But before this tableau, a certain number of disturbing questions arise. Questions that the committee did not ask itself, or that it sometimes dismissed with a wave of the hand. In addition, it should be noted that among the recommendations, a certain number are totally outside the field of expertise of the committee and, in particular, of each of its members.

This is why it is possible to speak of the “abuse of the abuse,” as a careful reading of the report shows.

The Validity of the Report

There is no question here of minimizing the transgressions made, on the contrary. One abuse in itself is too many. But the truth must stand and excess puts this very truth in danger. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

One of those who has shown this best is the journalist from Le Figaro, Jean-Marie Guénois in his letter “God Only Knows” no. 31, of November 1, 2021: “The Sauvé report on sexual abuse in the Church: a second fire at Notre-Dame de Paris?”

The religious columnist emphasizes that the shock of this report is “a number and a word”: it is the number of victims, “216,000,” and the word “systemic.” And to explain: “The general opinion - and not that of the sacristies - will have retained only this message: the Catholic Church is a systemic mass pedophile enterprise.”

We must vigorously protest against this conclusion. How can we speak of a “system” when 97% of priests cannot be included in this “system” that they claim to be denouncing?

Of course, a single abusive priest is a tragedy for the Church, for the victims, and for his colleagues. He leaves a bloody mark on souls and harms everyone in some way. But this way of presenting these crimes as a system ignores the probity and devotion of those who are innocent, and who mourn with the victims.

If there has been a system, it is more on the side of the bishops. Unfortunately, on their part, they practiced a “code of silence,” perhaps not systematic, but far too frequent. This is a fact to consider, but above all to explain. And it is on this point that the Sauvé report falls far short of reality, even distorting the perspective by mixing plans that should be separated from each other.

The Question of the Code of Canon Law

It will be necessary to return later in detail to the recommendations of the CIASE in relation to canon law, but it should now be specified that the period considered (1950-2020) is cut in two when it comes to canon law. Until 1983, the law was governed by the Code prepared by St. Pius X and published by Benedict XV in 1917. Pope John Paul II published a reformed Code in 1983, to adapt it to the Second Vatican Council.

Now, the shortcomings pointed out by the CIASE relate to this 1983 Code. The Commission is aware of this. It is therefore dishonest to charge the 1917 Code with faults committed by bishops before that date. The question of the 1983 Code will be examined below.

In this regard, it is useful to report the judgment given by Anne Philibert, in the conclusion of her book Des priests et des scandales Dans l’Eglise de France du Concile de Trente aux Lendemains du Concile Vatican II [Priests and Scandals. In the Church of France from the Council to Trent to the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council], (1545-1978), Cerf, 2019.

Here is what she writes on p. 401 concerning the years 1920-1930: “These bishops [of priests condemned for abuse] do not seem, in the state of the information collected, to have applied the recommendations of the Code of Canon Law of 1917 nor of the 1922 letter of the Holy Office. The priests were not suspended, etc.”

She continues: “The bishops retained from the 1922 decision of the Holy Office (and, later, that of 1962 of the competent congregation) only the rule of secrecy. This resulted in a fiasco.… The Holy See wanted sanction and secrecy. The practice seems to have been secrecy without the sanction.”

What this author therefore readily admits is that the tools to act in a fair and effective manner were in the hands of bishops, but that some have misused them. The fault is therefore in no way on the side of the law of the Church - at least the law prior to 1983. For the later law, it is another story.

By confusing these eras, the Sauvé report discredits the Code of Canon Law promulgated by St. Pius X in a completely unjust manner, and in turn, the Church herself.

The Value of the Figures

The second major interest of the article by Jean-Marie Guénois, is the frank and documented questioning of the figures set forth by the CIASE.

He begins by asserting that it is “by no means to revise or deny anything.” It is not difficult to admit that “the victims number in the thousands without counting those who never dared to speak.” But that does not prevent us from asking questions, from “adjusting the proportions,” from “delineating the exact part of a very serious, inadmissible problem, in order to better identify it,” and to eradicate it effectively, in the service of the victims.

However, the figures set forth by the CIASE were retained as a certainty, and “not as an arithmetical projection resulting from a declarative survey leading to an ‘estimate.’” In other words: “the Sauvé report would have unearthed a list of more than 300,000 victims.”

“How did we get there?”

J.-M. Guénois’ explanation is very instructive: “Two sources of victim counts were used,” he said. One accounting, nominal, with work on the archives of dioceses, tribunals, the press, and calls for witnesses, which was updated to 2,738 cases of victims,” a result of less than 10,000. Jean-Marc Sauvé himself, in February 2021, advanced the forecast of 10,000 victims.

J.-M. Guénois notes that this corresponds to equivalent reports throughout the world: the United States, Ireland, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, which publish figures in the order of 10,000. In Germany: 3,677 victims and 1,670 aggressor priests. In Australia: 4,756 victims for 1,880 priests or religious aggressors. In the United States, for the period 1950-2010, 13,000 sexual abuses committed by 5,000 priests. In Ireland, a national report from 1936 to 2009 mentions more than two thousand cases.

The question then arises: “how, in six months, would the number of victims have multiplied by ten, or even by 30?” And above all: “How, with 3,000 aggressor priests listed by the CIASE, would they have had - on average - 72 victims?”

The CIASE dispels the objection: “It is true that [this result] would imply a very high number of victims per aggressor. But such a result is not impossible in the light of the scientific literature which shows that a sexual predator can indeed attack very many victims.”

It is not impossible, but it must be demonstrated. Because let's imagine that among these 3,000 aggressors, half assaulted “only” 36 victims, which is already a lot for the literature we are talking about. The other half would have to have made more than 100. This is highly unlikely. However, in statistics, what is very improbable is null and void, as statisticians should know.

And J.-M. Guénois says it strongly: “How, for over 70 years, could the Church in France have hidden 3,000 cases of annual attacks? Or 30 cases per diocese per year, in the greatest silence? I mean 216,000 victims, divided by 70 years, then divided by 100 dioceses, which gives 30 cases per year for 70 years? A diocese is the size of a French department.”

“Such a rate of assaults, with such recurrence and regularity, could not go unnoticed so long even though the report explains how the psychological cover of the victim's silence, added to the weight of the institutional cover of silence, could block everything.”

"How were these hundreds of thousands obtained?”

Le Figaro’s religious columnist continues his demonstration by explaining how this figure was produced: “Not by the methods of a notary, or historian, an accounting of facts, persons, names, records. This method was used for the first part of the survey.”

“For the second part, the commission used a declaratory survey by e-mail with a sample of 28,010 people. Which gave the following results: of these 28,010 people, 117 people declared that they had been attacked by a member of the clergy, 92 men, 25 women. Or a respective percentage of 0.69% and 0.17%.”

Then we have to understand how they got from 117 self-declared victims to 216,000 victims? “Quite simply by multiplying this percentage of 0.69% of men and 0.17% of women with the current number of men and women in France as of January 1, 2021. … A total of 216,000 estimated victims over the past 70 years.”

Can this statistical extrapolation, which is based on the survey technique, be applied to our study? We can very seriously doubt that. And what is more important, this estimate does not reflect the reality of the files. But it is this which now passes for reality in the common opinion.

More Confusion

The CIASE report divided its estimate into three periods. But the report, which according to its title covers the years between 1950 and 2020, gives results for the period between 1940 and 2020.

It specifies that the first phase, between 1950 and 1970 is “the highest.” But the result, 56% of the violence committed, covers the period between 1940 and 1969. A very curious way of being “scientific.” Before referring to the peak period, the percentage should have been given over the range as defined by the title of the paragraph.

In this way, one becomes confused. What is the exact number? What fish do we want - perhaps - to drown in front of our eyes? It is for the Commission to respond. But it is possible to say that, in the materiality of the facts presented in this report, there was an “abuse of the abuse.”