Archbishop Luc Ravel of Strasbourg
Archbishop Luc Ravel of Strasbourg in north-eastern France published a long pastoral letter on Sept. 7 in which he attempted to analyse and address the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. La Croix’s Céline Hoyeau did this exclusive interview with him.
Your letter is entitled “Mieuxvauttard” or “Better late than never.” In 2016, you and the bishops of France were challenged by the group La Parole libérée (The Liberated Word). Why didn’t you respond then?
Archbishop Luc Ravel: For a very simple reason. This kind of document can only come from a heart that has been stricken or impelled by a kind of urgency.
While I was in the Military Ordinariate of France, I only had involvement with one case. Even then, it was at a late stage of the matter after it had been tried both canonically and by the civil courts. And I did not have an opportunity to meet the victim.
So I only had an intellectual and theoretical vision, if I could use those terms. Over the last five years, however, after hearing the revelations that have been made, particularly from the 1520 victims whose testimonies I have heard in my diocese over the last 14 months, my earlier naivety has been completely upended.
I knew that there were perverts in the Church as there are elsewhere. However, I came to appreciate that a kind of gangrene had attacked certain areas of the Church to the extent that the whole body trembled with fever.
I can understand all those who feel that my letter has arrived too late. I recognized that in the very title of the letter. However, I don’t accept that people say that it is too late since I believe that we can still act.
You say in your letter that this gangrene dates back to the Second World War. Is it not earlier than that?
I do not know. For the moment, we only have information from the beginning of the 1940s but that does not mean that nothing occurred before then.
The only historical reference that I am aware of prior to that is found in the sayings of the Desert Fathers during the fourth and fifth centuries, who very strongly condemned the fact of taking boys into the monasteries.
However, it will also be necessary to look at various geographical regions because I can hardly believe that this kind of perversion does not exist in Africa or Asia.
According to what I have heard from some nuncios, the large waves that have already swept the Church will perhaps not be much compared to the tsunami that will arrive over the next five or ten years once the cultural screens in certain countries are lifted.
Shouldn’t the bishops establish a commission to work on this historical dimension as happened with the Touvier affair in France? [Paul Touvier was a French collaborator during World War II]
I personally think that a historical study would be extremely useful to us, perhaps similar to the one Saint John Paul II established for the Galilee affair.
On one hand, it would act as a kind of anamnesis to help heal the collective memory while, on the other hand, it could help us to see how the Church responded to the issue of sexual abuse committed by priests in previous centuries.
This is all the more important here since there is one argument that seems to me to be completely unworkable, namely comparing us to other institutions, such as the national education system or the family circle where abuses also take place.
The Second Vatican Council very clearly reminded us – and it is simply the Gospel message – that the Church must be prophetic. So it needs to heal this wound in its heart for the sake of the world.
Pope Francis has called for a cultural revolution. Going beyond codes of good conduct, what needs to change to put an end to this crisis?
A code of good conduct is not sufficient. What’s needed is a collective conversion, including on the part of the People of God.
We are not all culpable. However, we are always in solidarity, all responsible – some by personal culpability or complicity, others by solidarity. But this is not self-evident today. Clericalism only exists because there are people who accept it.
Shouldn’t bishops be held accountable for their actions on paedophilia?
Yes, and this is also true in other domains. The bishop is all alone. Personally, I am not required to be accountable to anyone.
From my position, I try to remain accountable for what I do but no one comes to supervise me and I deplore this.
Some lay people don’t want to hurt the Church while some bishops have caused scandal. Is this an erroneous conception of scandal?
It would be good for theologians to study this notion, which I barely touched on in my letter.
It was very clear in the case of the American bishops. People wanted to avoid tarnishing the image of the Church.
It is true that the Bible speaks a great deal about scandal. “Woe to he who causes scandal.”
But that was never meant to protect the Church but to protect the little ones.