French Prime Minister Jean Castex met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday as the French Catholic Church battles a storm over clerical child sex abuse and the sanctity of confession
The long-planned trip to Rome, which includes talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, follows the publication of a devastating report estimating that French Catholic clergy had abused 216,000 children since 1950.
Francis, who has made battling the global scourge of clerical abuse a priority of his papacy, expressed “my shame, our shame” at the findings, echoing a similar sentiment from French church leaders.
But a row broke out when Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, the head of the Bishops’ Conference of France, said priests were not obliged to report sexual abuse if they heard about it during the Catholic ritual of confession, used to admit to sins.
Moulins-Beaufort’s words were in line with Vatican guidelines updated last year, which call on clerics to report claims of abuse.
But they say confession is subject to “the strictest bond of the sacramental seal”, while adding the confessor should try to convince the penitent to tell someone else.
Yet in France, victims’ advocates pointed out that French law recognises professional confidentiality for priests, but it does not apply in potentially criminal cases involving violence or sexual assault against minors.