“The investigations of the Sauvé commission on sexual abuse in the Church are 28,000 people questioned, seven decades of archives explored”

Tribune. Eight members of the Catholic Academy of France [une institution réunissant des intellectuels catholiques] signed a review of the report of the independent commission on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (Ciase) [présidée par Jean-Marc Sauvé] that they addressed to the Vatican. The text targets the theological and legal analyzes of the Sauvé commission report. It also questions the statistical counts produced by the surveys that the latter requested from the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm) and from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE). He criticizes Ciase for having relied on the Inserm investigation which gives abuse figures much higher than those produced by the EPHE. In order to show all the limits of this criticism, we would like to come back to the methodologies of these two studies, sociological and sociohistorical, that we have directed.

28,000 people surveyed

Faced with the lack of sociological data on people abused in the Church, the Inserm team conducted a general population survey with a sample of 28,000 people. By collecting information on activities carried out in childhood, this survey makes it possible, for the first time, to report assaults to people at risk. This survey, conducted at the end of 2020, estimated that 216,000 people had been sexually assaulted by a member of the clergy. This number is now at the heart of critics. In addition, to bring to light the social logics that favor the occurrence of violence, and to report on the reactions of assaulted people and representatives of the Church, 69 semi-structured interviews were conducted with people assaulted in their minority and religious.

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As for the analysis of the archives, the EPHE carried it out from several funds explored over seven decades (1950-2020). The study was carried out from a sample of 32 dioceses and 15 orders and congregations, selected on the basis of responses to a questionnaire sent in June 2019 to all bishops and major superiors. These funds keep the personal files of priests and religious abusers, the correspondence of bishops or superiors, the reports of the government councils of the dioceses and institutes. We have added funds from the national archives center of the Church of France.

Exploration of the archives

These elements were supplemented by a series of interviews and by an exploration of the press archives and the archives of the ministries of justice and the interior, where the judicial files of clergymen accused of sexual violence are kept. The questionnaire mentioned above also enabled us to obtain additional data for the dioceses and congregations that we did not directly visit. All of this fed into qualitative and quantitative analyzes of situations of abuse.

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“The investigations of the Sauvé commission on sexual abuse in the Church are 28,000 people questioned, seven decades of archives explored”

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