(OSV News) – France's Catholic bishops have announced new steps against sexual abuse – while also urging national dialogue to deter current nationwide protests over a proposal to raise state pension age and warning against new government moves to legalize euthanasia.
"Our precise intention was to find ways of building a safer church, and this order has been honored with remarkable work by 100 working group members," the bishops' conference explained in a March 31 statement at the close of its spring plenary at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
"We wish to act without delay, involving our cooperators as much as possible – so our current decisions, far from final, may still be improved upon. This is a process," they said.
The bishops said they had considered 60 proposals from working groups set up in November 2021 following a devastating report by an Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE).
Among new steps, they said an endowment fund for victim reparations would have its yearly budget of $21.6 million renewed, with a national file created of sanctioned individuals and plans laid for an annual report by anti-abuse organizations.
Lay participation also would increase in episcopal councils, the conference said, with a system of "external visits" to verify the work of bishops, while a "synodal-type assembly" with delegations from France's 93 Catholic dioceses will take place every three years.
In his March 31 closing address, however, the bishops' conference president, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, said several working group proposals had been shelved as "unrealistic," including the "systematic publication" of canonical sanctions taken against priests, parity between clergy and laity in church councils, and a request to the Vatican for authorization of women deacons and married priests.
Tighter anti-abuse measures and greater lay involvement were among 45 recommendations tabled by the CIASE commission, which estimated 330,000 children had been abused by Catholic priests and church employees in France since the 1950s.
French dioceses also are selling assets to finance compensation payments, in line with the CIASE recommendations, as well as ensuring judicial verification for anyone working with minors.
In December, the bishops' conference set up the world's first major national church court, tasked with judging "canonical offences by clergy and laity," although sexual abuse accusations will continue to be referred to the Vatican.
However, some critics demanded further measures, after church confirmation last November that 11 bishops and former bishops had been investigated for abuse, including Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, retired archbishop of Bordeaux, and Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet of Strasbourg.
In his March 28 opening address, Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort said "deep concern" also had been expressed at the Lourdes plenary over current protests against President Emmanuel Macron's plans to raise the state pension age to 64, using constitutional powers to bypass parliament.
He added that the bishops were praying for the country, "crossed by fractures difficult to overcome," as well as for "political leaders responsible for charting future paths that can constitute a common good for all."
"The crisis around the pension reform strongly calls into question the consultation and collective decision-making processes provided for by our institutions," the bishops' president said.
"The violence on the sidelines of certain demonstrations or perpetrated by certain groups fuelling it as a political weapon, and the dramas caused by uncontrolled reactions from those serving public order – these all disturb our fellow-citizens. They are an alarming symptom of the state of our social fabric," he said.
The four-day plenary ended as a 184-member Citizens' Convention on euthanasia, launched by Macron in September, voted April 2 in favor of assisted dying legislation, which was voted down in 2021 but backed by France's Ethics Council in a September report.
The bishops said they were "deeply sensitive" to the "sufferings and anxieties of patients, families and carers," as well as to the "many faithful Catholics standing by their side" in hospitals and retirement homes.
However, they added that calls for "assisted suicide" would jeopardize France's "collective commitment to suicide prevention," and said a "real dynamic of palliative care" would instead "contribute notably to the humanity of society."
"Our time is marked by a mixture of death negation and fascination with death," the bishops' said in a March 28 appeal.
"We love and believe in freedom – but this can only unfold if the value of everyone's life is fully recognized and respected," they said. "As current social conflicts show, what can unite and soothe our violently fractured society now more than ever is a collective commitment to fraternity."