Confessional secrecy in the event of abuse: Macron appoints supreme archbishop

The Catholic Church in France has been in an existential crisis since an investigation report documented mass abuse of children by priests. Because he refuses to loosen the secrecy of confession, President Macron has the chairman of the bishops’ conference summoned.

After the high numbers of abuse in the Catholic Church in France became known, the French interior minister GĂ©rald Darmanin summoned the chairman of the bishops’ conference because of his statements on the secrecy of confession. This is done at the request of President Emmanuel Macron, said government spokesman Gabriel Attal in Paris. The aim is to “clarify things”.

Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort had said after the abuse report was published that the confessional secret was “stronger than the laws of the republic”. Attal contradicted this: “Nothing is stronger than the laws of the republic,” he emphasized. The bishop will be summoned to the ministry early next week.

The commission of inquiry into cases of abuse calls, among other things, to make it easier for priests to report alleged perpetrators if they receive information about sexual abuse during confessional talks. The appointment of a Catholic clergyman to a ministry is a highly unusual measure in France. In France church and state are strictly separated. Confessional secrecy, like professional secrecy, is generally recognized by doctors and lawyers. According to French law, however, there is an obligation to break confidentiality in particularly serious cases.

Shock waves in the Catholic Church

According to the report of the independent commission of inquiry, around 216,000 minors in France were victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church between 1950 and 2020. According to the report, the number of victims rises to 330,000 if attackers are added who worked as laypeople in institutions of the Catholic Church, such as schools or youth groups. The high number of abuse victims had caused shock waves in the Catholic Church.

In the report, the commission of inquiry also advised the church not to use donations to compensate victims of abuse. Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort also contradicted this recommendation. “I hope that a certain number of believers will help us,” said the chairman of the French bishops’ conference on Wednesday. Unlike the church in Germany, the Catholic Church in France is dependent on voluntary donations from the faithful, as there is no church tax.