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Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France: the vast majority of victims are boys

sexual harassment in church

Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France: the vast majority of victims are boys

Context: CIASE’s report (French acronym for the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church

The Catholic Church’s mission is centered around three axes: to spread the Good Word (of Jesus in the Bible), to bear witness that Jesus, Christ our Lord, is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” in the world (Jn 14,6), to open us to relationships with others, in a spirit of dialogue and sharing. (Conférence des Evêques de France https://eglise.catholique.fr).

In the light of the shocking findings of the independent investigation carried out within the Church over the last two years, one can only conclude that the Church has cruelly failed in its mission. It has not done so out of ignorance or omission, but systematically and strategically, in an attempt to protect its institution rather than those who have entrusted their souls to it. Spiritual guides have used their moral hold on the children in their care or on adults seeking meaning in life, to destroy them by sexually abusing them. Whenever alerted, the Church has used its authority to manipulate, insinuate doubt or guilt, minimize, and muzzle the victims in order to prevent them from endangering the institution.

The damning results of the two-and-a-half-year investigation into the Church were published on 5 October 2021.

CIASE (French acronym for the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church) estimates that since 1950 there have been 216,000 victims of sexual violence committed by between 2,900 and 3,200 members of the Church (priests and/or other religious personnel). If we take into account the victims of sexual abuse committed by supervisory staff (faith teachers, catechists, chaplains, youth workers, choir leaders, boarding school teachers, etc.), the figures explode, reaching as many as 330,000 victims.

Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France: The Report

According to the report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) in France, 170,000 of the 216,000 victims are boys. This represents 78% of all French victims (The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church report, October 2021).

This same finding has been made evident in all the investigations that have been carried out to shed light on paedo-criminality in the Church: in Germany 70% of the victims are boys, in the USA it is 80%, it is 63.7% in Australia.

Based on CIASE estimates, only 1.25% of victims have testified. In addition to the particular and extreme difficulty in encouraging testimony – because the Church has never been trustworthy – there is also the difficulty of convincing male victims to voice their sexual aggression. Of these 1.25%, the majority of witnesses are women.

These figures support the research: men remain silent about the sexual violence they have suffered. The few survivors who do talk about it do so on average between 20 and 40 years after the abuse ended.

sexual harassment in church

170,000 of the 216,000 victims are boys: Why men don’t talk

The reasons that prevent male survivors from speaking out are the same as for all survivors of sexual violence: shame, fear of not being believed. In addition, there are specific reasons linked to the many confusions that sexual violence engenders :

– Manipulation under the pretext of initiation or affection

Sexual violence can be perpetrated on the pretext of initiation or affection, and the boys who are the victims go through a state of confusion that often remains with them for a long time. While the idea may occur to them that what has happened to them is sexual assault, they often doubt their own judgement. The notion of right and wrong can be very blurred. It can take a long time to realize that what has been presented to them as affection is in fact exploitation.

– Why me? The question of personal identity

When a boy’s physical integrity is denied, when he is subjected to the rules and desires of his abuser, it becomes impossible for him to trust his own body. Everything he feels is repressed in order to survive. In these conditions, it is very difficult for him to build his own identity. He feels reduced to being a sexual object in the service of someone else, without having an identity of his own.

– Am I a real man? The question of sexual identity

In the minds of boys who are sexually abused, a conviction is formed that if they have been ‘selected’ by the abuser, it is because there is something sexually wrong or abnormal about them. This leads them to doubt their masculinity. The rape of a male is often seen by both the perpetrator and the victim as a symbolic defeat and emasculation of the rape victim, coupled with an assertion of the anger, power and masculinity of the perpetrator”

– Am I gay or straight? The question of sexual orientation

As mentioned above, genital stimulation or stress can cause an erection and, even under duress, a boy can have an ejaculation. However, it seems that the more the boy feels that he has ‘participated’ in the sexual violence that has been imposed on him, the more he will tend to think of himself as ‘feminine’ or homosexual and the more he will carry the burden of this interpretation internally. He will wrongly see his physiological reaction as a revelation of his deeper nature. In this way he will arrive at the conclusion that he is homosexual, either adopting this sexual orientation or spending his life proving to himself that he is not. Thus, many of the most homophobic people are men who have been sexually assaulted.


The French Church has finally shed light on the endemic paedo-criminality that has been perpetrated at its heart for decades. It will only regain its credibility if it takes responsibility for implementing the strong action necessary to repair the suffering already caused to prevent it from happening again.

French version here : Abus sexuel dans l’Eglise en France

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  1. Pingback: Sexual violence: Why men need to talk - Isabelle Henkens and co.

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