Clerical child sexual abuse and the culture wars in France, 1891-1913

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This article investigates clerical child sexual abuse in the first decades of the French Third Republic. Thanks in large part to the difficulty of accessing relevant archival records, we know very little about this crime or how it was investigated by judicial officials. This study addresses this gap by drawing on a rich and untapped collection of correspondence between local prosecutors and the Ministry of Justice in Paris. The files reveal the process for investigating and prosecuting abusive priests, as well as the reverberations within local communities. Though generated by the state rather than the church, they offer an insight as well into the response of ecclesiastical authorities. Finally, they shed light on the relationship between clerical crime and the culture wars pitting French republicans against Catholics, a conflict that was reaching a peak of intensity in this period. What emerges from this study is an appreciation of the personal toll and political impact of clerical sexual abuse, as well as a new perspective on the recent scandals which have engulfed the Catholic church in a range of nations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)842-863
Number of pages22
JournalHistorical Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2023


  • French history
  • Religious History

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