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Investigators in Paris said Thursday they believe an electrical short-circuit is most likely the cause behind the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral.

The French judicial police official, who spoke anonymously about the ongoing probe, said investigators still don’t have the go-ahead to search the rubble or work in the cathedral because of safety concerns.

MACRON VOWS TO REBUILD NOTRE DAME IN 5 YEARS, AS DRAMATIC FOOTAGE OF FIREFIGHTERS IS RELEASED 

Although authorities consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work at the global architectural treasure that survived almost 900 years of French history, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said earlier this week that the inquiry into what caused the fire would be “long and complex.”

Some 50 investigators are actively working the case and are expected to interview workers from five companies hired for the renovations to the cathedral’s roof, where the flames first broke out.

Firefighters are seen with a robot firefighter called Colossus, made by French robotics company Shark Robotics, outside Notre-Dame Cathedral after a major fire on April 16, 2019.

Firefighters are seen with a robot firefighter called Colossus, made by French robotics company Shark Robotics, outside Notre-Dame Cathedral after a major fire on April 16, 2019. (Getty Images)

On Monday, the fire raged through the cathedral for more than 12 hours, ultimately destroying its spire and roof but sparing its twin medieval bell towers. As the blaze roared, there was a frantic effort to rescue the monument’s “most precious treasures,” including the Crown of Thorns said to have been worn by Jesus.

Remarkably, no one was killed in the blaze, which occurred during a Mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated everyone inside.

‘I FEEL LOST’: NOTRE DAME FIRE DESTROYED A SPIRITUAL HOME 

A day after the inferno, French President Emmanuel Macron set an ambitious goal of rebuilding the famed cathedral “even more beautifully” in five years. Since then, donations have been pouring in all over the world. It surpassed the $1 billion mark Wednesday.

NOTRE DAME WORSHIPERS COULD PRAY IN ‘EPHEMERAL CATHEDRAL’ MADE OF WOOD; SATELLITE IMAGES SHOW SCOPE OF DAMAGE

The rector of Notre Dame Cathedral has also proposed building a small, temporary church on the plaza outside the monument so that the faithful have a place of worship while the cathedral is closed for renovation.

“We mustn’t say ‘the cathedral is closed for five years’ and that’s it,” Monsignor Patrick Chauvet told France’s CNews television channel. “Can I not build an ephemeral cathedral on an esplanade (in front of Notre Dame)?”

On Thursday, workers were seen securing the support structure above one of Notre Dame’s famed rose windows with wooden planks.

Police officers stand behind the security barriers in front of Notre Dame cathedral Thursday, April 18, 2019 in Paris. 

Police officers stand behind the security barriers in front of Notre Dame cathedral Thursday, April 18, 2019 in Paris.  (AP)

A huge crane and renovation teams worked at the site even after authorities warned that some of the structure remains at risk. Firefighters walked on what remains of the roof to inspect damage.

The island housing Notre Dame at the heart of the French capital remained largely empty and closed to everyone but residents. Businesses were shuttered and the usual tourist throngs were nowhere to be seen.

Passersby praised the French firefighters who helped save the overall structure of the cathedral.

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Paris is also paying tribute Thursday to the 400 heroic firefighters who rushed into the massive to save the 12th-century cathedral from collapsing and rescued its irreplaceable treasures from the bright orange burning blaze.

Several hundred Paris firefighters, who are members of the French military, filed into the presidential Elysee Palace courtyard for a gathering hosted by Macron to share what his office said were “words of thanks.” Top government ministers also attended.

Paris City Hall is holding a separate ceremony in the fire brigade’s honor that will feature a concert and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Notre Dame’s Catholic worshipers feeling misplaced by this week’s massive blaze that destroyed the cathedral’s spire and roof will be welcomed in an “ephemeral cathedral” of wood in front of the Paris landmark until it reopens, Notre Dame’s chief priest said Thursday.

“We mustn’t say ‘the cathedral is closed for five years’ and that’s it,” Monsignor Patrick Chauvet told France’s CNews television channel. “Can I not build an ephemeral cathedral on an esplanade (in front of Notre Dame)?”

FROM THE FLAMES NOTRE DAME WILL REBUILD

Chauvet said the temporary wooden cathedral would host priests who could address the millions of tourists who flock to the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral each year.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo supports the idea and has agreed to give over part of the esplanade to the church for a wooden structure, Chauvet said.

Recently released satellite pictures also shows the extensive fire damage to Notre Dame; pictured left is the cathedral in September 2018; pictured right is April 17, 2019.

Recently released satellite pictures also shows the extensive fire damage to Notre Dame; pictured left is the cathedral in September 2018; pictured right is April 17, 2019. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies)

TED CRUZ SLAMMED FOR JOKING ABOUT DISNEY’S $5M DONATION TO NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL

The surrogate cathedral will be erected quickly, Chauvet said, though he did not give an approximate date.

On Monday, the fire raged through the cathedral for more than 12 hours, ultimately destroying its spire and roof but sparing its twin medieval bell towers. As the blaze roared, there was a frantic effort to rescue the monument’s “most precious treasures,” including the Crown of Thorns said to have been worn by Jesus. Recently released satellite pictures also show the extensive fire damage to Notre Dame.

Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, which occurred during a Mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated everyone inside.

A day after the inferno, French President Emmanuel Macron set an ambitious goal of rebuilding the famed cathedral “even more beautifully” in five years. Since then, donations have been pouring in all over the world. It surpassed the $1 billion mark Wednesday,

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL DONATIONS SWELL PAST $700 MILLION MARK

“It is up to us to change this disaster into an opportunity to come together, having deeply reflected on what we have been and what we have to be and become better than we are. It is up to us to find the thread of our national project,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation.

Macron added that Monday’s fire “reminds us that our story never ends. And that we will always have challenges to overcome. What we believe to be indestructible can also be touched.”

On Thursday, workers were seen securing the support structure above one of Notre Dame’s famed rose windows with wooden planks.

A huge crane and renovation teams worked at the site even after authorities warned that some of the structure remains at risk. Firefighters walked on what the remains of the roof to inspect damage.

The island housing Notre Dame at the heart of the French capital remained largely empty and closed to everyone but residents. Businesses were shuttered and the usual tourist throngs were nowhere to be seen.

Passersby praised the French firefighters who helped save the overall structure of the cathedral.

Benedicte Contamin, who came to see the cathedral Thursday said she’s sad but grateful it’s still there. She said this is “a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years.”

WOMAN CLAIMS SHE COULD SEE ‘SILHOUETTE OF JESUS’ IN NOTRE DAME FIRE

Paris is also planning a day of tribute on Thursday to 400 heroic firefighters who rushed into the inferno to save the 12th-century cathedral from collapsing and rescued its irreplaceable treasures from the bright orange burning blaze.

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Macron will also host fire crews for a special gathering, while Paris City Hall will hold a separate ceremony in the fire brigade’s honor that will feature a concert and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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The Notre Dame Cathedral, which Newt Gingrich called “one of the great centers of Western civilization and Christianity,” could be rebuilt in 10 years after a devastating blaze that lasted 13 hours Monday. according to the former speaker.

The husband of Callista, Ambassador to the Holy See, told “America’s Newsroom” they were heartbroken when they saw the images but remain hopeful.

NOTRE DAME’S GOLDEN ALTAR GLOWS IN FIRST PICS FROM FIRE-RAVAGED CATHEDRAL

“It can be rebuilt. We have done it before,” Gingrich said. “We know how to do this, and 10 years from now we should have Notre Dame right back the way it was as a great, great center of civilization.”

The former House Speaker pointed to other points in history where similar devastation happened, but today those structures stand proudly today.

HERO PRIEST SAVES PRECIOUS ARTIFACTS FROM NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL FIRE

Gingrich praised French President Emmanuel Macron for showing “defiance” and vowing to rebuild the Gothic cathedral.

“Notre Dame will be back again,” he added, “and it will be one of the great landmarks of Western Civilization.”

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Repairing the cathedral in the wake of the blaze — including the 800-year-old wooden beams that made up its roof — presents challenges.

The cathedral’s roof cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire because “we don’t, at the moment, have trees on our territory of the size that were cut in the 13th century,” Bertrand de Feydeau, vice president of preservation group Fondation du Patrimoine, said.

He said the roof restoration work would have to use new technologies.

Meanwhile, three of France’s richest businessman – Bernard Arnault, Francois-Henri Pinault and his billionaire father Francois Pinault – have pledged nearly $340 million to help finance repairs.

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Its iconic twin bell towers remained visibly intact as a symbol of hope that from the ashes Notre Dame could be rebuilt after an inferno engulfed the iconic cathedral.

Inside, amidst the rising smoke and rubble, the golden altar cross was seen glowing as firefighters made their way into the fire-ravaged cathedral to survey the damage.

Smoke is seen around the alter inside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. The golden altar cross could be seen glowing as firefighters made their way in.

Smoke is seen around the alter inside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. The golden altar cross could be seen glowing as firefighters made their way in. (Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)

“Notre Dame was destroyed but the soul of France was not,” Michel Aupetit, archbishop of Paris said on RMC radio.

The 12th-century church is home to relics, stained glass and other works of art of incalculable value, and is a leading tourist attraction. Its organ dates to the 1730s and was constructed by Francois Thierry.

Flames and smoke are seen as the interior continued to burn inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, April 16, 2019.

Flames and smoke are seen as the interior continued to burn inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. (Reuters)

Paris Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire described authorities’ “enormous relief” at salvaging pieces such as the Crown of Christ, which were quickly transported to a “secret location” by officials after the fire.

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL FIRE WITNESSES IN PARIS SHARE SHOCKING VIDEOS: ‘IT KEEPS GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER’

General view from the entrance of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019 after the fire engulfed its upper reaches

General view from the entrance of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019 after the fire engulfed its upper reaches (Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)

The Rose windows – a trio of immense round stained-glass windows over the cathedral’s three main portals that date back to the 13th center, were also saved, Aupetit told reporters.

This file photo a crown of thorns which was believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ and which was bought by King Louis IX in 1239.

This file photo a crown of thorns which was believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ and which was bought by King Louis IX in 1239. (AP)

At dawn, the twin 226-feet towers – immortalized in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” – swarmed with building specialists and architects, looking tiny from the ground as they conducted analysis.

Paris firefighters declared success Tuesday morning, saying the fire had been extinguished and that workers extinguishing any smoldering residues.

Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

“The task is — now the risk of fire has been put aside — about the building, how the structure will resist,” said Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez in front of the cathedral.

CENTRAL SPIRE, ROOF OF HISTORIC CATHEDRAL COLLAPSE IN MASSIVE BLAZE

An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the blaze, which Paris prosecutors said was being treated as an accident right now. Officials said the fire was possibly a result of the restoration work taking place at the global architectural treasure.

“Nothing suggests that it was a voluntary act,” Remy Heitz said outside the Gothic cathedral on Tuesday.

Paris firefighters’ spokesman Gabriel Plus said “the whole of the roof has been devastated… a part of the vault has collapsed, the spire is no more.”

Dramatic video from Monday showed heavy flames engulfing the center spire as it came crashing down. The sight stopped pedestrians in their tracks along the Seine River, which passes under the cathedral.

“I hope I will see that cathedral again in my lifetime and that I will celebrate a mass there. I’m 67 now and if all goes well, even if it takes 10 years, I will be 77 and still able to do it,” Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, the rector of Notre Dame, told France Inter radio.

YOUTUBE SLAMMED AFTER LIVE NOTRE DAME FOOTAGE APPEARS WITH LINK TO 9/11 INFO

President Emmanuel Macron called it a “terrible tragedy” and vowed to rebuild the cathedral that he called “a part of us.”

Meanwhile, three of France’s richest businessman – Bernard Arnault, Francois-Henri Pinault and his billionaire father Francois Pinault – have pledged nearly $340 million to help finance repairs.

A statement from Francois-Henri Pinault said “this tragedy impacts all French people” and “everyone wants to restore life as quickly as possible to this jewel of our heritage.”

Pope Francis said in an early morning tweet that the world unites “in prayer with the people of France.”

“Today we unite in prayer with the people of France, as we wait for the sorrow inflicted by the serious damage to be transformed into hope with reconstruction. Holy Mary, Our Lady, pray for us,” he wrote.

The chief architect of Cologne cathedral said it could take decades to repair the damage caused to the Notre Dame.

Peter Fuessenich, who oversees all construction work for the Gothic cathedral in the German city, told broadcaster RTL on Tuesday that “it will certainly take years, perhaps even decades, until the last damage caused by this terrible fire will be completely repaired.”

Meanwhile, a representative of one of the five companies which had been hired to work on renovations to the Notre Dame cathedral’s roof says “we want more than anyone for light to be shed on the origin of this drama.”

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Julien le Bras’ company has 12 workers involved in the refurbishment, though none were on site at the time of the fire.

Le Bras insisted that “all the security measures were respected,” and “workers are participating in the investigation with no hesitation.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Salma Hayek’s husband, the French billionaire François-Henri Pinault, pledged almost $113 million to rebuild Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral after Monday’s devastating fire.

Pinault announced Tuesday that he will draw almost $113 million in funds from his family’s investment firm, Artemis, “to participate in the effort that will be necessary for the complete reconstruction of Notre-Dame,” the French newspaper Le Figaro reported.

THE LATEST: FRENCH LEADER VOWS TO REBUILD DAMAGED NOTRE DAME

Pinault, 56, who is the chairman and CEO of Kering, a Paris-based luxury group behind brands including Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, married the Mexican and American actress Salma Hayek in Paris in 2009, Yahoo News reported. The couple owns a residence nearby the destroyed 12th-century medieval Catholic cathedral.

“As many others I’m in deep shock and sadness to witness the beauty of Notre-Dame turn into smoke. I love you Paris,” Hayek said on Instagram, sharing an image of the cathedral ablaze.

Pinault’s father, the 82-year-old Francois Pinault, is worth $37.3 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. The family’s contribution is the first major donation to reconstruction efforts after the fire engulfed the historic structure, leading to the collapse of the structure’s main spire.

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A public fundraising drive for reconstruction efforts kicked off Tuesday. French President Emmanuel Macron addressed a sorrowful crowd at the site. He vowed to rebuild the cathedral for the French people, describing it as the “epicenter” of their lives, The New York Post reported.

“It is what our history deserves,” Macron said. “It is, in the deepest sense, our destiny.”

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Salma Hayek’s husband, the French billionaire François-Henri Pinault, pledged almost $113 million to rebuild Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral after Monday’s devastating fire.

Pinault announced Tuesday that he will draw almost $113 million in funds from his family’s investment firm, Artemis, “to participate in the effort that will be necessary for the complete reconstruction of Notre-Dame,” the French newspaper Le Figaro reported.

THE LATEST: FRENCH LEADER VOWS TO REBUILD DAMAGED NOTRE DAME

Pinault, 56, who is the chairman and CEO of Kering, a Paris-based luxury group behind brands including Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, married the Mexican and American actress Salma Hayek in Paris in 2009, Yahoo News reported. The couple owns a residence nearby the destroyed 12th-century medieval Catholic cathedral.

“As many others I’m in deep shock and sadness to witness the beauty of Notre-Dame turn into smoke. I love you Paris,” Hayek said on Instagram, sharing an image of the cathedral ablaze.

Pinault’s father, the 82-year-old Francois Pinault, is worth $37.3 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. The family’s contribution is the first major donation to reconstruction efforts after the fire engulfed the historic structure, leading to the collapse of the structure’s main spire.

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A public fundraising drive for reconstruction efforts kicked off Tuesday. French President Emmanuel Macron addressed a sorrowful crowd at the site. He vowed to rebuild the cathedral for the French people, describing it as the “epicenter” of their lives, The New York Post reported.

“It is what our history deserves,” Macron said. “It is, in the deepest sense, our destiny.”

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, cited biblical text to help make sense of the catastrophic fire that engulfed the upper reaches of Paris’ soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday.

“It affects all the senses,” he said. “I can see us rising from this dying.”

He added: “This fire won’t have the last word.”

SHOCKING PHOTOS: NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL CATCHES FIRE

The fire had been threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said the church’s structure remained intact.

The blaze collapsed the cathedral’s spire and spread to one of its landmark rectangular towers. A spokesman said the entire wooden frame of the cathedral would likely come down, and that the vault of the edifice could be threatened too.

Dolan offered hope amid the disaster continually at his New York City news conference: “This Holy Week teaches us that, like Jesus, death brings life. Today’s dying, we trust, will bring rising.”

Dolan said the fire struck at the heart of civilization, a spiritual home that has endured moments of smiles and tears.

Earlier in the afternoon, Dolan tweeted: “I just went next door to our own beloved Cathedral, Saint Patrick’s, to ask the intercession of Notre Dame, our Lady, for the Cathedral at the heart of Paris, and of civilization, now in flames! God preserve this splendid house of prayer, and protect those battling the blaze.”

Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages as well as one of the most beloved structures in the world. Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the Seine River, the cathedral’s architecture is famous for, among other things, its many gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses.

Among the most celebrated works of art inside: its three stained-glass rose windows, placed high up on the west, north and south faces of the cathedral. Its priceless treasures also include a Catholic relic, the crown of thorns, which is only occasionally displayed, including on Fridays during Lent.

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“It was with horror that I saw the pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris ablaze.  Having visited that magnificent gothic Church and prayed in it many times, I join all of those in France and elsewhere who receive this news with such pain,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington said in a statement to Fox News.

“In a special way, we offer our prayers and express our solidarity with all the people of France and particularly the faithful of the Church of Paris of which Notre Dame is the Cathedral.”

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Investigators are treating the fire that engulfed Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral as an accident for now, the local prosecutor’s office said Monday evening.

Paris police will investigate the disaster as “involuntary destruction caused by fire” and have ruled out arson and potential terror-related motives for starting the blaze, officials said.

The prosecutors’ statement came moments after a government official and the Paris fire chief said they were optimistic that the cathedral’s world-famous bell towers had been saved from the fire, and that the main structure of the building remained intact. It was a rare piece of good news on a night that left thousands in the streets of the French capital and millions around the world looking on in shock as one of the world’s great religious, cultural and historic landmarks was consumed by flames.

Fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet confirmed that firefighters had managed to stop the fire spreading to the northern belfry, the stomping ground of the fictional hunchback Quasimodo in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” He added that two-thirds of the cathedral’s roof “has been ravaged” and confirmed that one firefighter was injured, the only known injury from the fire.

Late Monday, signs pointed to the fire nearing an end as lights could be seen through the windows moving around the front of the cathedral, apparently investigators inspecting the scene. Gallet said firefighters would keep working overnight to cool down the building.

CENTRAL SPIRE, ROOF OF HISTORIC CATHEDRAL COLLAPSE IN MASSIVE BLAZE

The blaze collapsed the cathedral’s spire, which had been shrouded in scaffolding as part of a 6 million-euro ($6.8 million) renovation project on the spire and its 250 tons of lead. French media quoted the Paris fire brigade as saying the fire was “potentially linked” to that construction. As the spire fell, the sky lit up orange and flames shot out of the roof behind the nave of the cathedral, among the most visited landmarks in the world. Hundreds of people lined up bridges around the island that houses the church, watching in shock as acrid smoke rose in plumes

The fire came less than a week before Easter amid Holy Week commemorations. As the cathedral burned, Parisians gathered to pray and sing hymns outside the church of Saint Julien Les Pauvres across the river from Notre Dame while the flames lit the sky behind them.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who canceled a planned address to the nation about the ongoing “yellow vest” crisis, rushed to the scene and straight into meetings at the Paris police headquarters nearby. After emerging to face a throng of reporters, Marcon vowed the cathedral would be rebuilt and announced the launch of an international fundraising drive to begin raising the millions of dollars necessary to restore the building to its former glory.

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL FIRE WITNESSES: ‘IT KEEPS GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER’

“We will rebuild this cathedral,” said Macron, who added that “The worst has been avoided although the battle is not yet totally won.” The French leader also praised the “courage” and “great professionalism” of firefighters who battled the blaze for approximately four hours.

Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit invited priests across France to ring church bells in a call for prayers for the beloved Paris cathedral.

Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages as well as one of the most beloved structures in the world. Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the Seine river, its architecture is famous for, among other things, its many gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses.

Among its most celebrated art: three stained-glass rose windows, placed high up on the west, north and south faces of the cathedral. Its priceless treasures also include a Catholic relic, the crown of thorns, which is only occasionally displayed, including on Fridays during Lent. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said late Monday that the collection of artwork and holy objects kept inside the church had been recovered, though it was not clear if any items were damaged.

French historian Camille Pascal told the BFM broadcast channel the fire marked “the destruction of invaluable heritage.”

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“It’s been 800 years that the Cathedral watches over Paris”, Pascal said. “Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre Dame.”

He added: “We can be only horrified by what we see.”

Fox News’ Lucia Suarez Sang and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Absence of God, the sexual revolution of the swinging ‘60s and the formation of “homosexual cliques” in seminaries are to blame for the Catholic Church’s rampant sex abuse scandals, retired Pope Benedict XVI has said.

In 6,000-word essay – published Thursday in the German monthly Klerusblatt, the Catholic News Agency and in other conservative media – the former pontiff tranced the start of the clergy abuse to when sex began to appear in films in his native Bavaria.

He also blamed the crisis on failures of moral theology in that era and slammed church laws in place that gave protection to priests accused of abuse.

RETIRED POPE BENEDICT SAYS HE IS IN LAST PHASE OF LIFE, ON ‘PILGRIMAGE HOME’

“Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimate, the reason is the absence of God,” Benedict wrote. “Perhaps it is worth mentioning that in not a few seminaries, students caught reading my books were considered unsuitable for the priesthood. My books were hidden away, like bad literature, and only read under the desk.”

The conservative theologian said that during the 1980s and 1990s, “the right to a defense [for priests] was so broad as to make a conviction nearly impossible.”

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict spearheaded reforms of those laws in 2001 to make it easier to remove priests who abused children. Benedict took a hard line against clerical sex abuse as the Vatican’s conservative doctrine chief, and later as pope, defrocking hundreds of priests accused of raping and molesting children.

POPE FRANCIS KISSES SHOES OF SUDANESE LEADERS IN PLEA FOR PEACE

Benedict’s essay was immediately criticized as “catastrophically irresponsible” because it conflicts with efforts by his successor, Pope Francis, to lead the church out of the sex abuse crisis.

Benedict, who retired in 2013 and turns 92 next week, also blamed the scandal on a clerical culture in the church that raises priests above worshippers.

The essay was criticized by church historians including Christopher Bellitto, who questioned if Benedict was being manipulated by others. He said the essay omitted the critical conclusions that arose from the pope’s February sex abuse summit in Rome, including that “abusers were priests along the ideological spectrum, that the abuse predated the 1960s, that it is a global and not simply Western problem, that homosexuality is not the issue in pedophilia.”

“It is catastrophically irresponsible, because it creates a counter-narrative to how Francis is trying to move ahead based on the 2019 summit,” Bellitto told The Associated Press in an email. “The essay essentially ignores what we learned there.”

POPE VOWS TO CONFRONT CLERGY SEX ABUSERS, PREDATORS WITH ‘WRATH OF GOD’

Villanova University theologian Massimo Faggioli called the essay a thin analysis that omitted key cases that began well before the 1960s.

“If a pope emeritus decides to stay silent, it’s one thing and can be defended. But speaking and telling a tiny part and a very personal version of the story, it’s hard to defend,” he said on Twitter. “Everything we know in the global history of the Catholic abuse crisis makes Benedict XVI’s take published yesterday very thin or worse: a caricature of what happened during in the Catholic Church during the post-Vatican II period — with all its ingenuities and some tragic mistakes.”

Meanwhile, the essay was applauded by some on the right. Writing in The Catholic Herald, Chat Pecknold praised the intervention as a necessary word from “the voice of a father” that accurately identified an absence of God as the reason for the crisis.

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“I suspect that after all the studies are done after the review boards are formed, cases heard, after new protocols and safeguards are in place, Benedict’s answer will be the one which endures,” he wrote. “What will be remembered as the seed of renewal, as the root of restoration, is precisely Benedict’s counsel that we turn our faces back to Christ who is the perfect image of the Father’s love.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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It wasn’t until Rev. Cait Finnegan gave birth to a baby girl more than three decades ago that the full trauma of all she had withstood was fully unleashed.

“It was my protective instinct, I just didn’t want my daughter to be alone. I stayed with her from the day she was born,” Finnegan, 67, a Catholic school student in 1960s New York and once an aspiring nun, told Fox News. “Because I had been abused in many places to many degrees. This was every day in school, weekends, she would come to my home.”

Starting at just 15, Finnegan alleged that she was repeatedly raped by a Catholic nun and for years, after finally escaping, lived a life on the edge of falling apart. She said she spent much of her life trapped in a state of rage, depression, and agoraphobia, unable to leave the house or be away from her daughter, now 36.

They lived in poverty as Finnegan said she was only able to take on odd jobs at night, as her marriage strained under the emotional weight.

“When my daughter was 12, we thought it would be good to register her at a Catholic School,” Finnegan recalled. “But then the nun opened the door, I had a flashback, I grabbed her and ran.”

MALE RAPE EMERGING AS ONE OF THE MOST UNDER-REPORTED WEAPONS OF WAR

Finnegan said her abuser died more than four years ago. But the deep, dark memories she has carried since adolescence remain.

“The pain is still there, still haunting,” Finnegan, who was married to a Catholic Priest but is now widowed and has dedicated her days to helping impoverished children serving as the minister of the Pennsylvania Celtic Christian Church, continued. “But I am never going to shut up, I am going to do everything I can to help heal some of the sad memories my daughter had to endure because of this.”

A survivor and advocate of survivors of Catholic Church abuse, Rev. Cait Finnegan

A survivor and advocate of survivors of Catholic Church abuse, Rev. Cait Finnegan (Rev. Cait Finnegan)

But she is hardly alone in what some experts predict might be the next big blow for the Church to grapple.

Last month, a Minnesota-based law firm that represents survivors of clerical abuse unveiled a long list of those who have been credibly accused of child molestation. The 185-page “Anderson Report on Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese and Dioceses,” which focused on Illinois and mostly on priests, also named six nuns among the 390 alleged abusers.

Of the six nuns named, three are reported to now be dead and the whereabouts of the remaining three is not clear, the report stated.

Some of the appalling claims date back half a century, but it’s an issue that investigators believe is very much prevalent today and shrouded in the secrecy of survivors.

Patrick J Wall, a former Roman Catholic Priest and Benedictine Monk who is now an expert in canon law and clergy sexual exploitation, rallying on behalf of other survivors at the Anderson firm, said that almost all cases involving nuns as perpetrators have been wiped from the vaults.

“The cases I remember, the nun was moved, or a couple of times sent off for treatment,” he said. “There is no public record, just quietly settled. Most states have no record of the cases being settled.”

Wall said that such cases he came across during his tenure in the Church were all quietly settled and that many accusations since have had “statute of limitation problems.” He also said there is next to no data specifically looking at the issue of sexual abuse by nuns, and there may not be any officially compiled anytime soon.

“The Church has such a gigantic problem with the Bishops now,” Wall conjectured. “They likely are not concerned about the nuns.”

And Mary Dispenza, a director at the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a support group for anyone harmed by institutional and religious authorities, told Fox News that it wasn’t until recently – the age of 78 – she too acknowledged that she was a victim of nun sexual abuse throughout her 15-year tenure.

“It was an awakening for me, a story I carried around for so long, one of such confusion,” said the former Southern California-based nun turned survivor advocate.

Mary Dispenza, representing SNAP at the Pope’s summit on The sexual abuse of minors earlier this year.

Mary Dispenza, representing SNAP at the Pope’s summit on The sexual abuse of minors earlier this year. (Mary Dispenza)

Since federal authorities opened a probe into allegations of abuse at several dioceses in Pennsylvania last October, Dispenza noted that 67 individuals from across the United States have reached out to her with their own horror stories of misconduct – 56 of them documented sexual abuse by nuns, four claimed physical and emotional abuse, two were concerned nuns themselves seeking information on how to improve their orders, and the remaining endured priest abuse.

“This number could be multiplied several times over, a few thousand around the world,” she cautioned. “It is another significant problem the church is yet to face.”

While the majority of those who reached out to Dispenza for guidance were female, she said some were male recounting their childhood horrors.

“The men carry a great deal of shame, which has kept them from coming forward or speaking out,” she observed.

The Holy See has been forced to deal with a dizzying fall from grace over the past year as massive numbers of priests around the world have been exposed as sexual abusers and predators. Pope Francis has also had to acknowledge that some nuns were also abused by clergymen.

But no word has been uttered publicly.

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In February, church leaders worldwide convened in Rome for a four-day conference to address the amplifying abuse scandal, and carve a structured, more transparent way forward to aid survivors and resolve the profound stains on the Church’s image.

But Dispenza said the nun matter wasn’t mentioned.

“No one wants to touch the nuns,” she contended. “The nuns have been sacred and by and large, they are mostly wonderful and dedicated women who have nurtured and cared for children throughout the years. But this is a current issue that has not yet been addressed.”

85-year-old sister Maria Concetta Esu kisses the hand of Pope Francis as he presents her with a Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award during his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. 85-year-old sister Maria Concetta Esu is an obstetrician who gave birth to some 3,000 children during her 60 years of missions in Africa, that the pontiff met during his trip to the Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

85-year-old sister Maria Concetta Esu kisses the hand of Pope Francis as he presents her with a Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award during his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. 85-year-old sister Maria Concetta Esu is an obstetrician who gave birth to some 3,000 children during her 60 years of missions in Africa, that the pontiff met during his trip to the Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While mostly a silent crime through the passage of time, small spouts of justice have been brought to the surface from time to time.

In 2004, a former nun accused of molesting a 10-year-old Catholic school student 15 years earlier was convicted in a Virginia Beach court of two felony sex crimes and was sentenced to a 10-year suspended sentence.

A year earlier, for the first time locally, a nun was identified as an alleged abuser amid a wave of allegations leveled against the Catholic Church in San Diego by a male identified only as John Roe, and claimed to be just 10 years old when he said the predatory crimes began.

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But space for survivors to slowly step out of the shadows, with or without the Vatican’s lead, is now opening.

“(We) recognize that there have been incidents where Catholic sisters have sexually abused persons entrusted to their care,” said Sister Annmarie Sanders, a representative for the Chicago-founded Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which brings together the leaders of Catholic nun congregations across the U.S. “These actions are horrific and we join with women religious throughout our country who deeply regret the suffering that has resulted for the survivors and, often their loved ones as well.”

Sanders pledged that healing efforts will continue.

“We are grateful for the courage of the survivors who have come forward. Because of them, our own understandings of the long-term effects of sexual misconduct have expanded and deepened,” she added. “We agree with the survivors who are calling upon women religious to keep working for the healing of victims and the prevention of further abuse.”

Source: Fox News National


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