French Catholic Leader Discusses ‘Clumsy Wording’ on Confessional Seal with Interior Minister

Among the report’s 45 recommendations was a request for the Church to reconsider the seal of confession in relation to abuse.

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, pictured in 2015.
Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, pictured in 2015. (photo: Olivier LPB via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0). / Olivier LPB via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0))

PARIS, France — The president of the French bishops’ conference discussed the “clumsy wording” of his recent comments about the confessional seal with the country’s interior minister on Tuesday. 

In a statement after the meeting at the interior ministry’s headquarters in Paris on Oct. 12, the bishops’ conference said that Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort and Gérald Darmanin reflected on an interview that the archbishop gave after the publication of a watershed report on clerical abuse in France.

In the interview with France Info, Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort was pressed on whether the confessional seal took precedence over French laws.

“The seal of confession imposes itself on us and in this, it is stronger than the laws of the Republic,” he said.

France has a mandatory reporting law, with sanctions for failing to stop or report a crime.

“Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort was able to discuss with Gérald Darmanin the clumsy wording of his answer on France Info last Wednesday morning,” the bishops’ conference statement said.

“The state has the task of organizing social life and regulating public order. For us Christians, faith appeals to the conscience of each person, it calls to seek the good without respite, which cannot be done without respecting the laws of the country.”

The final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), issued on Oct. 5, estimated that 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns from 1950 to 2020.

The independent commission, established by the French bishops in November 2018, spent 30 months investigating abuse within the Catholic Church led by Jean-Marc Sauvé, a senior civil servant.

Among the report’s 45 recommendations was a request for the Church to reconsider the seal of confession in relation to abuse. 

The bishops’ conference statement quoted Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort as saying: “I ask forgiveness of the victims and all those who may have been hurt or shocked by the fact that the debate sparked by my remarks on France Info about confession took precedence over the reception of the content of the CIASE report and the consideration of the victims.”

The Vatican has strongly defended the confessional seal in response to mandatory reporting laws introduced around the world. 

In June 2019, the Apostolic Penitentiary issued a note reaffirming the inviolability of the sacramental seal. 

The bishops’ conference statement noted that Darmanin, who is responsible for France’s religious affairs, initiated the meeting. It said that the two men discussed the CIASE report, which it described as “remarkable.”

It noted that the French bishops’ conference (CEF) and the Conference of Religious in France (CORREF) had asked Pope Francis to grant Sauvé and his colleagues an audience.

“The extent of sexual violence and aggression against minors revealed by the CIASE report requires the Church to re-read its practices in light of this reality. Work is therefore needed to reconcile the nature of confession with the need to protect children,” the statement said.

The French bishops will address the CIASE report and its recommendations at their plenary assembly on Nov. 3-8.

“Along with the bishops of France, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort invites parishes, movements, and communities to read this report, to share it and to work on it, as it seems essential that all welcome the numerous testimonies of victims that it contains and draw the necessary conclusions,” the bishops’ conference statement said.

“The reality of sexual violence and aggression against minors within the Church and in society calls women and men of goodwill, believers or not, to work together in the service of the protection of the youngest, of the reception and accompaniment of the victims.”

“Faced with these facts, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort reiterates his shame and dismay, but also his determination to carry out the necessary reforms so that the Church in France may deserve the trust of all.”