Vatican City, Holy See:
French Prime Minister Jean Casteux met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday, as the French Catholic Church battles clerical child sexual abuse and a storm over the sanctity of confession.
The long-planned trip to Rome, which included talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, follows the publication of a devastating report that estimated that French Catholic priests had abused 216,000 children since 1950.
Francis, who has made battling the global crisis of clerical abuse a priority for his papacy, expressed “my shame, our shame” at the findings, echoing a similar sentiment from French church leaders.
But a controversy erupted when Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, the head of France’s episcopal conference, said that priests were not obliged to report sexual abuse if Catholics confessed the sins.
Moulins-Beaufort’s words were in line with Vatican guidelines updated last year to ask clerics to report claims of abuse.
But they say that confession is subject to “the strictest binding of the Holy Seal”, while the confessor must try to persuade the repentant to tell someone else.
Yet in France, victims’ advocates pointed out that while French law recognizes professional confidentiality for priests, it does not apply to potentially criminal cases involving violence or sexual assault against minors.
After their meeting at the Vatican, Castex told reporters that the pope had said the French Church had been “courageous” in dealing with the issue.
“He trusts the Church in France to draw conclusions. He is glad there has been no denial,” the premier said.
“The Church will not shy away from the dogma of the mystery of confession. But we must find ways and means to reconcile it at all costs with criminal law, the rights of the victims,” Castex said.
“He is fully aware of it. It’s a long-term job.”
Moulins-Beaufort was called to a meeting with Interior Minister Gerald Darminin, and later insisted that the safety of children was “an absolute priority”.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See, Dormanin accompanied Casteux and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to the Vatican.
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