Report on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church in France Is Ideologically Biased, Priest Claims
Father Michel Viot discusses his critical book about the Sauvé Report, which shook France and the whole Catholic Church in the fall of 2021, and denounces the partiality of its authors.
The publication of the Sauvé Report on sexual violence in the Catholic Church of France between 1950 and 2020, in October 2021, caused a shockwave whose effects are still being felt on a national scale.
The staggering figure of 330,000 cases of abuse of minors, announced alongside the publication of the 2,500-page document, left the entire local Catholic flock in a state of shock and allowed little room for critical and dispassionate analysis at the time.
At the end of November, however, eight members of the prestigious French Catholic Academy sent Pope Francis a 15-page study in which they questioned the scientific rigor of the investigation led by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), the organization in charge of writing the report. This initiative by the academics to challenge what appeared to be a broad consensus around the report’s findings in the Catholic world prompted a wave of indignant reactions and led to multiple resignations within their own Academy.
It is in this sensitive climate that Catholic priest Father Michel Viot has decided to devote an entire book to the controversies surrounding the report, whose final recommendations could drastically change the future of the Church in France.
Co-authored with Catholic writer Yohan Picquart and prefaced by statistician Paul Deheuvels, Rapport Sauvé: une manipulation? offers an analysis of what the authors describe as the ideological and methodological biases underlying the report.
A former Lutheran bishop and freemason who converted to Catholicism and was ordained a priest in 2003, Father Viot, a priest of the Archdiocese of Paris, is the author of a number of books, including De Luther à Benoît XVI : itinéraire d’un ancien franc-maçon, (From Luther to Benedict XVI: The Journey of a Former Freemason) and La France a besoin d’un roi (“France Needs a King”). Known for his outspokenness, he delivers uncompromising analyses of the post-modern society on his blog and is a regular contributor to several national media. The Register interviewed him on the occasion of the release of his book.
How did you decide to write a book about the sensitive topic of the CIASE report?
I decided to write this book as soon as my coauthor Yohan Picquart suggested it to me. Because it is all very well to want to make the Church a safe house, but certainly not to make it a house of suspicion. Otherwise, if a particular priest does not like it, one day he can be accused of everything. As the French proverb goes: “He who wants to kill his dog accuses him of rabies.” Whoever wants to get rid of one’s priest will accuse him of pedophilia. It will be easy to get rid of someone who is deemed cumbersome.
I am also thinking of the problem of vocations. In 1960, we used to ordain about 600 men a year. Today, we have fallen below 95. If we want priests to be trustees in the bankruptcy of an institutionally bad or systemically perverse enterprise, this number is sufficient to manage the crisis. But if we want to evangelize, not be satisfied with the current 1.8% of practicing Catholics in the French population, we must act differently if we want to encourage vocations, and stop casting suspicion on a profession that already does not attract many people. This report tends to instill a systemic distrust of the priest.
When the Sauvé Report is mentioned in the Catholic Church, one has the impression that it has become kind of a fifth Gospel or a third table of the law. In short, it seems it has a magisterial authority, as if it were a matter of papal infallibility. But it is only a report.
What exactly is your criticism of this report?
I think that it is a biased document, because it used the polling method. Here, I rely on what the world-renowned statistician Paul Deheuvels, from the French Academy of Sciences, who is not just anyone when it comes to surveys, says in the preface: “I was stunned by the multitude of approximations and methodological errors present in this poll, and I drew the general conclusion that it lacked credibility.”
You know, I’ve dealt with polls a lot in my life because when I was a pastor, I did a lot of politics. I’ve been up close and personal in four presidential elections, so I know how easily polls can be steered. Some topics allow for useful polls, if they are simple and without a fundamental existential dimension. But if, for example, you ask, as it was the case: “Do you remember being raped before the age of 18 by someone?” with a vocabulary clearly implying, without explicitly saying it, that it is a survey about the Catholic Church, and that the answers are anonymous and by way of internet, let me have doubts about the reliability of the results. People can answer anything. Especially in a French society where anti-Catholicism is still very present.
In your book, you were indignant about the 70-year period over which the survey was conducted. Why was this?
I was frightened from the beginning when I saw the period that the investigation would cover. In Italy, it seems to me that they were much wiser, conducting an investigation that spans 20 years, and that is based on files, with names of victims and not by randomly inflating figures from certain data. Moreover, the last 20 years are an interesting period because it is in the ’90s that the Church started to become aware of these things. And we can see this very well, if only by the interventions of the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he very officially warned the Church. Moreover, the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) published in the year 2000 a whole document widely distributed to fight against pedophilia. It was republished several times with excellent prefaces, by experienced bishops like Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, then archbishop of Bordeaux. I remember, I came back to the Catholic Church in 2001, and was ordained a priest in 2003 and it was widely distributed in our diocese. My bishop was extremely careful and we never had any stories. It was really zero tolerance. But it didn’t come into place until the 1990s, along with the rest of civil society.
Here is another thing that the Sauvé report seems to ignore: French society, unfortunately, has not always looked at pedophilia in the same way as it does today. I remember some of the horrors that we heard in 1968 on television, in prime-time programs, or in newspapers that had very large circulations, where pedophilia was justified in the name of the right of children to sexuality. And the Church in France lived in this society.
You also cite the Archdiocese of Paris as an example to follow, and also as a textbook case in the fight against pedophilia...
I think that Archbishop Michel Aupetit has had a flair for it. When he arrived, he agreed with the public prosecutor to automatically send him any file concerning reports of sexual abuse. As I explain in my book, he sent a total of about 25 files when he was in office, of which only three were retained by the prosecutor. Three files are currently under investigation, and it is not yet known whether they will lead to a trial.
One does not improvise oneself as a policeman, that is learned. The police know what they are doing, while a priest does not learn in the seminary how to interrogate children or parents. A policeman does not settle personal scores, nor do judges. On the other hand, in the Church, this kind of accusation can be used as a pretext to get rid of some ideological opponent. Knowing how to evaluate the credibility of an accusation is a job that cannot be improvised.
You criticized the CIASE for its lack of impartiality. One of the examples you take to illustrate your point is that of the testimony of the lawyers who pleaded against Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon in the trial that took place between 2019 and 2021. What is it about this that makes you so indignant?
I found it absolutely scandalous because it goes against both morality and law. Cardinal Barbarin was acquitted by the Court of Appeal and by the Court of Cassation. This means that the civil justice system has ruled in favor of the cardinal. But it is the people who pleaded against the cardinal who are invited to testify. And the cardinal’s lawyer was not even informed of this.
There is talk of an independent commission. Very well, but then why put enemies of the Catholic Church on it? In this commission, there is, for example, Nathalie Bajos and her colleagues from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, who are great supporters of abortion. This woman, who provided the figures that have made such an impact on public opinion, published a column against Pope Francis in a major French newspaper in 2018, accusing him of encouraging feminicide by condemning abortion. This kind of scandalous amalgam and the radicalization of her ideological positions should disqualify this person from being part of a commission that will be in charge of giving indications to the Catholic Church and advice on how to avoid certain abuses. One can think a priori that this person is not really benevolent towards the Catholic Church.
This bothers me, as does the fact that a long audience was given and that reference was made to the words of Frederic Martel, the author of In the Closet of the Vatican, who wrote coldly that the Pope in Rome was living among “queens.” He has the right to do so, but what is he doing as a witness in a commission of this type?
But don’t you think that this report can contribute to a free discussion, and to really cleaning up the ranks of the Church?
The good thing about the Sauvé Report was that it showed us, through testimonies that are absolutely poignant, how serious it is not to have been vigilant. What I fear, and which seems to me inevitable, is that by desacralizing the ministry of priests, the priesthood, we end up with what Protestantism did, that is to say, with such a soft conception of the ministry that, for example, in certain Protestant churches today, you have people who celebrate the Eucharist and who are laypeople, they’re not ordained.
The problem is that Jean-Marc Sauvé was allowed to take whoever he wanted on the commission and that he used a consulting firm called Influence & Stratégie, not only for the investigation but also for the somewhat theatrical presentation of it.
Jean-Marc Sauvé also presided over the annual dinner of the freemasonic Grande Loge de France in 2013, during which he emphasized the fact that more space should be given to mosques and religious pluralism in France . How do you explain that the CEF entrusted him with the task of choosing all the members of the commission, giving him carte blanche?
I am not sure that all the members of the CEF were aware of the personal opinions of Mr. Sauvé, who had the “halo” of vice president of the Council of State. We were promised that the commission would be independent. But independence does not always mean neutrality and as such, the CEF should have had an oversight over the composition of its team.
Aren’t you yourself afraid of the attacks that might come with the publication of such a book?
The people who are most involved in the creation of the CIASE and its results are obviously the most suspicious. It is possible that some of them are indeed angry with me. I am at the end of my days, I am in remission from two cancers, but I still want to fight for the Church, as I did against those two cancerous tumors. I just need prayers.
But I must add that I am already really buoyed by the good this book has done for my parishioners, and by the many expressions of support I receive from all kinds of people. Many are very relieved that some priests have not accepted to let the Church be labelled as “systemically” criminogenic. I also receive a lot of encouragement from priests and even bishops, although in private of course.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media — including the Catholic media — gave a lot of space to Sauvé and the members of his commission, and very few to the members of the Catholic Academy who expressed reservations about the report. As for the investigation that I’ve published, one can literally speak of a media omerta. The single thought in the French landscape today is that of Mr. Sauvé.
But the truth will become clear one day. The Catholic Church of France has existed for centuries and it is not the secular French Republic or some people who think they serve it that will decide what it should be.