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Roman Catholic Church abuse in France

Pope Francis waves during his weekly outdoors general audience on May 26, 2021 at the San Damaso courtyard in the Vatican [ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images]
Pope Francis waves during his weekly outdoors general audience on May 26, 2021 at the San Damaso courtyard in the Vatican [ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images]

Comparing grotesque crimes against humanity, while trying to work out which are the worst, is a wretched task. Acts of profound evil have implications well beyond their direct victims, so judging their long-term consequences is extremely difficult.

What is certain to many in France right now, however, is that efforts to punish one major monotheistic religion for its indirect links with terrorism are extremely rigorous, while there is deafening silence around how to deal with another faith for direct child abuse carried out by priests.

These double standards came starkly into focus this month when the Roman Catholic Church confessed that it was an institution that has systemically defiled infants for decades. Clergymen working in schools, orphanages, and a host of other places where youngsters were at their most vulnerable, were among the thousands of predatory criminals who committed heinous acts including rape.

Pope Francis himself was among those who spoke of "a time of shame," as it was revealed that fellow Catholic clergy have attacked an estimated 216,000 minors since 1950, according to a meticulously researched new report. This number rises to 330,000 when the offences of lay staff are included, and in all cases the sanctity of the Church has been used for cover. Outcomes of this demonic activity have included suicides.

The date chosen to start the research was a random one too – abuse had clearly been going on for years before 1950. Worse still, there is no guarantee that the crisis is over. The Pope has called for measures to be introduced to prevent "similar tragedies" happening again.

In short, Catholic institutions have been hubs of criminality, and everything was done to protect abusers, while silencing survivors. Yet there have been no significant suggestions by anyone in power that the Catholic Church deserves a punishing crackdown.

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Compare this to the way in which Muslims are currently being treated in France following a string of barbaric crimes carried out by men expressing their corrupted affinity with Islam. The vast majority of these terrorists have provably not been anywhere near an Iman, or even a Mosque for years, and their knowledge of the Quran was at best rudimentary.

Yet Islamic institutions have been deemed at least partly culpable for atrocities such as the November 2015 attacks on Paris. Up to 130 people – including many Muslims – were killed in bomb and machine gun attacks by drug-addled young men, most of whom already had convictions for armed robbery, and indeed had fought for outlawed organisations in the Middle East.

The determination to link these fiends with overwhelmingly peaceful Muslim communities in France has extended to President Emmanuel Macron introducing a so-called "separatism bill" over the summer. It targets the places where Muslims are allegedly living separately from the parts of the secular French republic that are approved of by the political establishment.

Thus Gerald Darmanin, Macron's Interior Minister, proudly announcing that some 89 places of worship have been closed this year. Details of quite why these mosques are no longer open are sketchy, but the implication is that radicals use them, and that criminality might be the result.

Unlike the tide of evidence used to convict paedophile priests, a direct link between these Muslim institutions and recent terrorism is hard to detect. On the contrary, the most heinous terrorist acts in France in recent months have all involved foreign nationals. These range from the Russian teenager of Chechen origin who decapitated teacher Samuel Paty in October 2020, to the Tunisian immigrant who was in France illegally when he stabbed three people to death in a Roman Catholic Basilica in Nice in the same month.

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There are obviously votes in spreading collective guilt among all Muslims in France, especially as Macron is trying to capture the far-Right Rassemblement National constituency as he bids to win the April 2022 presidential election. Muslims are thus cynically associated with immigrants and dark skins, while Catholics are seen as traditional white conservatives – ones that should be beyond reproach.

Despite the country being a secular one, it would be inconceivable for a President of France to be elected without the Catholic vote. François Fillon, once the runaway favourite to become head of state in 2017, made great play of his religious faith before he was caught up in a corruption scandal. His crimes were a disaster for him – he is appealing a prison sentence for swindling the taxpayer by falsely claiming that his wife, Penelope Fillon, worked for him.

Fillon's sins thus made him unelectable. Public justice worked in this case, and it now may well be time for the majority faith in France to acknowledge the double standards with which the Catholic Church is treated compared to Islam.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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