It is hard to believe but France’s highest court ruled that the legal obligation to report sexual crimes against a minor ceases as soon as the victim becomes a capable adult. The case of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin unfolded in a shocking way: as the former most senior Catholic in France he failed to report allegations directed at Bernard Preynat for decades. Preynat, a former priest, allegedly assaulted an estimated 3000-4000 victims. How is it possible that Cardinal Barbarin is not held accountable for non-reporting? When it comes to human rights, and as in this case, to the protection of minors, a rhetoric of silence can be louder than a million words – in fact, the absence of words and a moral voice is a clear and deeply disturbing statement by itself. Deeply disturbing also because it isolates traumatised and terrified victims of abuse – many of them paralysed with shame and fear for all of their lives – even further. As former victim Alexandre Dussot-Hezez states in Agence France-Presse: “Not everyone has an opportunity to speak out or seek justice. Sometimes there are traumas that prevent you taking this step, even if you’re of age. There are also family and religious pressures – not everyone has the strength to accuse a priest.”
For a more detailed description of the case read Keith Porteous Wood’s articles on The French State and Clerical Abuse and Clerical abuse victims. Keith Porteous Wood is spokesperson of IAFT and President of the National Secular Society (UK).