Paris — How could this happen? This question is the most common reaction in France after a well-documented public television program showed that many nuns had been sexually abused by priests for more than 20 years in France. Not only did the nuns not talk about it for years, but people who knew did nothing to denounce the predators.
The outrage sparked by the program "Abused Sisters: The Other Scandal of the Church" on the Franco-German public television channel ARTE, which aired in early March, has led many French Catholics to raise their voices to call for new measures to make sure these crimes do not happen again.
In Paris, several parishes organized evenings of discussion and prayer, inviting attendees to express their pain and doubts at a time when the church is criticized by the media. For example, about 50 parishioners of Notre Dame de l'Arche d'Alliance in Paris' 15th arrondissement met March 25 to discuss the situation, vent their anger and disappointment, ask questions and pray together.
Catholic magazine Pèlerin chose the headline: "Let's Mend the Church."
An online forum named "Conférence des Baptisé-e-s Francophones" launched a petition to grant women a bigger say in church affairs and got 5,000 signatures in three weeks.
Religious women are determined to take part in pressing for change. Sr. Véronique Margron, the head of the Conférence des Religieux et Religieuses de France or CORREF (the conference of religious men and women in France), is at the forefront of this fight against abuse.
"We knew there were abuses of power by some priests and mother superiors, but we did not know the extent of these crimes," said Margron, who added it was not possible to estimate the number of female victims, since many do not want to talk about it.