French Bishops’ Conference Spokeswoman Fired, After Criticism of Her Communication About the Report on Sexual Abuse
This news, confirmed Nov. 12, came only a few days after the conclusion of the French bishops’ fall plenary assembly in Lourdes.
The spokeswoman and undersecretary for the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF), Karine Dalle, has been fired, two and a half months after taking office, in the very sensitive context of the release of the CIASE report on sexual violence in the Catholic Church between 1950 and 2020.
This news, confirmed by the CEF to La Croix Nov. 12, came as a surprise only a few days after the conclusion of the French bishops’ fall plenary assembly in Lourdes, which focused on ways to apply the recommendations made by the independent commission in October.
According to the Catholic daily newspaper, the CEF’s general secretary, Hugues de Woillemont, said that her trial period was not confirmed, without providing more explanation about the decision.
For her part, Dalle sent an email to her team on the evening of Nov. 11, informing them of her dismissal. Contacted by the Register, she declined to comment on the CEF’s decision.
Clear and Straightforward
Before taking office at the CEF in September 2021, Dalle had made a name for herself as the head of the communication bureau of the Archdiocese of Paris, where she had been working since 2016. Over the years, she had built a solid reputation for her management of various crisis situations, notably during the Notre Dame Cathedral fire and the controversies that followed.
Her clear-and-straightforward communication earned her the selection to be the one to undertake the delicate mission of communicating on behalf of the French bishops on the eve of the release of the explosive CIASE report.
Nevertheless, as soon as the report was published on Oct. 5, her comments, judged to be too strong and favorable to the Church, placed her under fire from critics, especially on social media and in media circles. This appears to be the most plausible reason for her dismissal.
In a series of tweets that were subsequently deleted, Dalle contextualized the data and figures contained in the report, recalling, for example, that the horrifying figure of 330,000 victims was only an estimate. Responding to people who were ascribing these abuse cases to the celibacy of priests, she also explained that more than one-third of the cases were committed by laypeople.
On some occasions, Dalle also expressed frustration in the face of the lack of knowledge of many mainstream media regarding the Church’s functioning and teachings. That was the case when a controversy erupted after the CEF’s president reaffirmed the sacredness of the seal of confession and its superiority over the French law, even in the case of admissions of abuse made by penitents. In an Oct. 13 interview with the Register, she denounced the anticlerical excesses of some media that didn’t understand the context and meaning of this sacrament.
The CIASE’s Ideological Pressure
But Dalle may also have borne the brunt of the context of increased hostility triggered by the report against the Church and the subsequent enormous popular and media pressure put on French Church leaders who seem overwhelmed by the CIASE’s recommendations (which include the end of confessional secrecy concerning sexual abuse) that have challenged the basic structures and teachings of the Church.
In this regard, several Catholic commentators — without minimizing the seriousness and extent of sexual abuse in the Church — have expressed their concern over the fact that an ideological bias at the origin of the commission’s report could lead to effects far removed from the original objectives of the Church of France when it commissioned the report.
Critics noted in particular that the conclusion of the report commissioned by the CIASE, undertaken by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) to provide an estimate of the number of victims of sexual abuse in the Church, identified the celibacy of priests and the bar on women’s ordination as the source of this scourge. In this sense, the Sauvé report was viewed by these critics as being marred by an ideologized approach toward the Church. This perception was reinforced by the commission’s utilization of external “experts,” such as Frédéric Martel, “LGBT” activist and author of the controversial book In the Closet of the Vatican.
Furthermore, the background of some leading members of the CIASE itself has raised questions about their neutrality. For instance, sociologist Nathalie Bajos, the research director for INSERM who led its investigation, specializes in the field of gender studies.
In an interview with Le Monde following the publication of the report, Bajos said that “the Church is truly a privileged observatory of male domination.” “For example,” she added, “ordination, which is reserved for men, inscribes a fundamental inequality between women and men in the very structure of the institution. Anything that contributes to legitimizing or reinforcing male domination can only encourage the occurrence of sexual violence.”
Her collaborator in the preparation of the INSERM’s survey, Josselin Tricou — author of the recent book Des Soutanes et des Hommes (Cassocks and Men), an argument against the celibacy of priests — told Mediapart Oct. 8 that, regarding sexual abuse, “the masculinity of priests is the heart of the reactor.”
Moreover, the commission’s president, Jean-Marc Sauvé, former vice president of the Council of State and a self-declared Catholic, presided over the 2013 annual dinner of the freemasonic Grande Loge de France, alongside famous political figures such as Christiane Taubira (former minister for justice, member of the Grande Loge Féminine de France and promoter of the law on same-sex “marriage” in 2013), and Jean-Louis Debré (former president of the Constitutional Council, who was awarded the “Laicité Prize” by the Grand Orient de France in 2018). During this dinner, according to a blog published by the French newspaper L’Express, Sauvé discussed the progression of evangelical and Muslim communities in the country, lamented “the lack of mosques in France” and called the French republic to a greater secular pluralism.