Nearly 500 victims of church sex abuse in France have received financial compensation

NICE, France (AP) — Hundreds of victims of child sexual abuse by priests or church representatives have received financial compensation so far from France’s Catholic Church under a sweeping reparations program, an independent body in charge of the process said Thursday.

An annual report by the Independent National Authority for Recognition and Reparation said 1,351 victims came forward to claim compensation and seek psychological support in an effort to recover from childhood trauma.

The average age of victims who have come forwards is 61, Marie Derain de Vaucresson, the head of the body said during a news conference Thursday.

Of them, 66%, are men and 34% are women, she said. The claims process started in 2022.

So far, the reparations authority has approved compensation claims of 489 victims, the report said. Of those, 88 people were granted the maximum of 60,000 euros ($65,000). Last year, 358 victims’ compensation claims were approved, with each individual granted an average amount of 35,310 euros, the report said.

France’s Catholic bishops’ conference agreed to provide reparations after a 2021 report estimated that some 330,000 children were sexually abused for over 70 years by priests or other church-related figures in France.

The estimates were based on broader research by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research into sexual abuse of children.

The report described a “systemic” coverup by church officials and urged the French Catholic Church to respect the rule of law in France.

Once the reparations authority approves the financial compensation, each case is sent to a special fund financed by the church for payment.

The majority of those who reached out to the authority in 2023 reported “very serious” crimes, the report said, including being repeatedly raped.

In 39% of the cases, the abuses continued for more than a year and in 12% of the cases the abuser psychologically manipulated the victim for up to five years after the last physical assault, according to the report.

Victims were between 6 and 15 years old when they were abused, the report said.

Reparations also include non-financial support — such as help for victims to write down their stories, meetings with local church representatives or installing a plaque in memory of the victims. Some 780 victims are now being assisted by the authority.

The assistance includes helping write a letter to a long-deceased abuser or mending broken relationships with victims’ adult children, spouses and other family members.

Most often it’s just listening to the victims — now in their 60s, 70s, or even 80s — finally speak out after being silenced for so long.

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