Strong Tensions Within the Catholic Academy of France

December 07, 2021
Bernardin College, seat of the Catholic Academy of France

In an undated note, but available since November 25, eight members of the Catholic Academy of France have undertaken a reasoned criticism against certain aspects of the report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), chaired by Jean-Marc Sauvé, published last October 5.

One detail gives the measure of this position: Mr. Sauvé is – or was, one should say - a member of the Academy.

The Catholic Academy of France

According to its own presentation, this Academy was born to promote “the intellectual output attached to Christianity, to Catholicism in particular,” and to create a place for it in the public space.

After preparation, the Academy was incorporated and received its name on October 13, 2008. It is based on two “pillars”: federating, that is to say “bringing together institutions and people who wish to do so , whose production testifies to an attachment to the intellectual tradition of Catholicism as well as to its updating”; to found “an Academic Body, animated by an Academic Council, a sort of ‘committee of wise men’ made up of personalities from different disciplines.

By “Academy” is meant: “the illustration and improvement of the sciences, arts, and letters.” The motto of the institution is from St. Augustine: “One enters into truth only through charity.”

This Corps has set itself three missions: 1) To represent disciplinary excellence in a body of Catholic conviction; 2) To advance the reflection on selected themes, intellectual or social; 3) Intervene within the framework of occasional meetings with the cultural media.

The Academy, until recently, had: 94 individual members, 20 institutional members, 64 members of the Academic Body.

Criticism of the CIASE Report

A 15-page document, signed by eight members of the Academy, including the president, the two vice-presidents, and the secretary general, was sent to the president of the Episcopal Conference of France, Msgr. Erice de Moulins-Beaufort, as well as to the apostolic nuncio in France, Mr. Celestino Migliore.

This is a documented critique of the Sauvé report, focusing on “the factual and statistical dimension” - in other words, the question of the numbers put forward; on “the theological and philosophical dimension,” i.e., on the explanations put forward by the report as to the foundations of the abuses, considered “systemic”; on “the legal and financial dimension,” which concerns the way in which the report applies responsibility.

The first part notes the improbability of the figures, in particular as regards the number of victims per culprit. It also recalls that a study on the subject, carried out by the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, at the request of the CIASE, found an extrapolated figure of 24,000 victims.

This study was purely and simply discarded in favor of the statistical method of surveys, with the result that we know.

The authors do not hesitate to write: “The spirit which governs the analysis of the causes and the formulation of recommendations seems a priori ideological.” Heavy accusation between intellectuals.

The second part is the weakest. In the analysis of the causes, the authors seek to show that the report is based on “an imperfect ecclesiology, a weak exegesis, and an outdated moral theology.”

But unfortunately, the authors themselves base themselves on more or less erroneous elements of modern theology, in particular of Vatican II. And, in fact, they accuse an outdated moral theology, because it is too fixed on natural law.

Now, Benedict XVI - quoted in the previous article - notes on this subject a post-conciliar “collapse” of moral theology and the Church's teaching in matters of morals, the fruit of a veritable revolution, born of the conscious disregard for the natural law.

As for disputing with bishops the fullness of power in the Church - which is also implicitly aimed at the Bishop of Rome for whom the same power applies to the whole Church - this is a blatant modern error.

On the other hand, the third part is a legal precision which indicates a certain control. This is the most interesting part. It shows that, in the assessment of the responsibilities of the various actors, in the search for a financing solution through solidarity, as well as in the accountability of the facts, the CIASE report is deeply inaccurate, even erroneous.

Chain Reaction

A note clearly states that this text is not a declaration of the Academy, and that it engages only the responsibility of its authors. But this precaution was not enough.

According to some newspapers, several members of the Academy have resigned, including Msgr. de Moulins-Beaufort and Sr. Véronique Margron, Superior of the Conference of Religious Men and Women of France (COREFF). As well as Mr. Sauvé. The Academy confined itself to acknowledging that “5 out of 200 members have just resigned as a result of this text.”