Catholic dioceses in France have raised 20 million euros (US$22.6 million) to compensate thousands of victims of historical child sexual abuse by clergy, the fund in charge of raising the money said Tuesday.
Church officials have been under intense pressure to recognize and compensate victims after a landmark French inquiry confirmed widespread abuse of minors by priests, deacons and lay members of the Church dating from the 1950s.
“It’s a first step. The Church has followed through on its commitment,” the president of the Selam fund, Gilles Vermot-Desroches, told AFP after its board met on Monday.
An initial five million euros will be set aside for compensation claims being studied by an independent panel set up in the wake of the damning abuse report, released in October.
It found that 216,000 minors had been abused by clergy over the past seven decades, a number that climbed to 330,000 when claims against lay members of the Church are included, such as teachers at Catholic schools.
The commission that produced the report denounced the “systemic character” of efforts to shield clergy from prosecution, and urged the Church to pay victims with its own assets, instead of asking parishioners to contribute.
Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, head of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF), has said the Church will sell off real estate and tap its financial holdings, and possibly take out bank loans to raise the money.
But it has also told parishioners they can make donations to the fund.
Vermot-Desroches did not provide a detailed breakdown of the source of the initial 20 million euros, but said the CEF, individual bishops and the “vast majority” of dioceses across France contributed.
Victims’ associations have demanded compensation payouts that would cost the Church tens of millions of euros.
Widespread cases of sexual abuse in the Church worldwide have become one of the biggest challenges for Pope Francis, who expressed his “shame” after the French inquiry was released.