Senior members of France’s Roman Catholic hierarchy knelt for a demonstration of penance at the Sanctuary of Lourdes on Saturday, a day after bishops accepted responsibility for the church for decades of child abuse.
But some of the abuse survivors – and lay members who support them – have said they are still awaiting details of compensation and comprehensive church reform.
In Lourdes, a place of pilgrimage for Christians, around 120 archbishops, bishops and lay people gathered for the unveiling of a photo showing a sculpture representing the head of a crying child.
At the request of the victims, the clerics did not wear their religious clothing for the ceremony.
The photograph wall will serve as a “place of memory” for the victims. The photo itself was taken by one of the abuse victims, and the suffering he had endured was detailed in a passage read by another survivor.
During the ceremony on Saturday, Hugues de Woillemont, spokesperson for the Episcopal Conference of France, declared: “We want to mark this place of Lourdes for a first visual testimony which commemorates so much violence, tragedies and attacks.
Just a day earlier, after a vote at their annual conference, the bishops of France finally officially accepted that the Catholic Church bore “institutional responsibility” in the thousands of cases of child abuse.
The abuses, dating back to the 1950s and affecting at least 216,000 minors, were detailed in an independent report published a month ago, which spoke of the “veil of silence” cast over the scandal.
The conference also acknowledged that the church had allowed the abuses to become “systemic,” said Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF).
A victim of abuse, Véronique Garnier, said she was moved by the ceremony.
Garnier, who worked closely with the CEF, said it was important that justice be served for the victims.
But Father Jean-Marie Delbos, who was abused as a child, angrily rejected the ceremony. “Repentance is a sham,” the 75-year-old priest said of the ceremony. He demanded that the priest who had abused him be punished and defrocked.
About 20 lay members of the faith, purple ribbons tied around their arms or necks, gathered under a banner calling for the “four Rs” – recognition, responsibility, redress and reform – on the part of the Church.
“We have our role to play,” said one of them, Anne Reboux, 64, from the southwestern city of Toulouse. The more the lay members played an active role in the church, the less the hierarchy would be tempted to abuse its power, she argued.
In Paris, a few dozen people, some of whom identified themselves as victims of abuse, gathered in front of the CEF headquarters.
“We hope, by our presence … to be taken into account in the development of an action plan and a timetable that will have to be put in place to achieve compensation”, one of the organizers, Yolande Fayet de la Tournée, told AFP-TV.
A decision on compensation for victims of abuse is expected on the last day of the CEF conference on Monday.