Protecting children from sexual abuse is an “absolute priority” for the Catholic Church, a French archbishop said on Tuesday, rolling back previous comments that priests should not violate the secrets of confession.
Eric de Moulins-Beaufort sparked outrage among victims’ groups last week by saying that the secrecy of the confession was “above the laws of the Republic”.
His remarks came after an independent report uncovered thousands of cases of sexual abuse by priests over the past seven decades.
At the request of President Emmanuel Macron, the Archbishop met with Interior Minister Gerald Dormanin on Tuesday.
Later, he emphasized the “determination of all bishops and all Catholics” to make the safety of children an absolute priority, in close cooperation with the French authorities.
“The report revealed that the scope of violence and sexual assaults against minors demands that the Church revise its practices in light of this reality,” he said in a statement.
“Therefore it is necessary to reconcile the nature of confession with the need to protect children,” he said.
While French law recognizes the professional secrecy of the rite of confession, it also states that this privilege does not apply to cases involving violence against minors.
De Moulins-Beaufort reiterated its “shame and consternation” on the 216,000 cases of child sexual abuse by clergy since 1950 identified in the report.
It said church superiors had covered up this abuse in a systematic “veil of secrecy”.
He promised “to carry out the reforms necessary for the French Church to gain the trust of everyone”, and said that he had asked Pope Francis to meet with the report’s authors at the Vatican.
Francis has already expressed his “shame and horror” over the historical report.
It recommended a series of measures to protect minors from violent clergy, including a requirement that priests notify prosecutors of any child abuse they hear in confessions.
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