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Sexual Abuse Victim at Catholic Church in France Urges Overhaul of System

© REUTERS / Pascal RossignolA man walks past the church Sainte Therese in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy, France, July 27, 2016
A man walks past the church Sainte Therese in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy, France, July 27, 2016 - Sputnik International, 1920, 09.10.2021
MOSCOW (Sputnik), Tommy Yang - A victim sexually abused by a paedophile priest in France has shared his experiences with Sputnik on how he became an advocate for other victims and how to bring about the necessary changes amid the shocking revelations that over 216,000 children were abused over the years in the country's Catholic churches.
Francois Devaux was a 10-year-old boy in 1991, when he experienced sexual abuse by a priest who was the boy scout leader at a Catholic church in Lyon, France.

"I was 10. But my story was a little bit different from others' stories, because it was one time only. And on the same day, I told my parents what happened and they trusted me. They told me that I couldn't stay in the boy scout group anymore", Devaux told Sputnik.

His supportive parents tried for eight months to get the religious leaders at the local diocese to hold the priest, whose name was Bernard Preynat, responsible. But his parents' defiance made his family become isolated in the close-knit local community that depended heavily on the Catholic Church. That's why Devaux never followed what happened to Preynat after he was ousted because of the scandal.
When Devaux found out in 2015 that Preynat was still serving as a priest, he was in complete shock. That's when he started to get in touch with other victims that Preynat abused and established a group named "La Parole Libérée" (The Liberated Word) in December 2015.
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Through his victims' group, Devaux became an advocate for other victims that faced sexual abuse by other Catholic priests in France and got in touch with over 1,000 victims from different parts of the country.
In early 2021, Devaux's advocacy finally paid off when an independent commission was established in France to formally investigate the extent of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the country.

"We closed this association [victims' group] maybe eight months ago, because we trust that this commission would do a great job", Devaux said.

The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (CIASE) in France released its final report on Tuesday, with shocking findings.
"Keeping these methodological precautions in mind, the Commission arrived at an estimate of the number of child victims to have suffered sexual assault at the hands of priests, deacons, monks, or nuns to be 216,000 over the period from 1950 to 2020, based on the general population survey of 28,010 persons aged 18 and over and representative of the French population in accordance with the quota method", the report said.


As for the priest who assaulted Devaux in 1991, he was given a 5-year prison sentence in March 2020.
However, many other victims who experienced sexual abuse were not as fortunate as Devaux, who had supportive parents that listened to and trusted his stories. Many other victims' parents refused to believe that priests and nuns could get involved in such devious acts. Those victims had to wait for many years until their parents' death, before they could openly share their traumatic experiences.
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After learning about the stories of other sexual abuse victims, Devaux argued that the Catholic Church needed to be completely overhauled to prevent similar tragedies from happening.
"The problem still exists and we cannot say: It's getting better'. The problem will continue to exist if the church does not change. They face a huge job to build a new church. I think humanity doesn't have a choice. The whole world needs to work hard to make sure our children are safe", he said.


Devaux pointed out that sexual abuse in Catholic churches was not a unique problem in France, as similar cases of abuse had been reported in other countries as well. In Spain and Italy, the number of victims could be several times higher than in France, the activist noted.

"The problem exists in churches everywhere. The problem is in the centre of the church system everywhere. We're sure that there're many victims in Spain and Italy, even more than in France. That's because in France, we decided to separate the state from the church in 1995. But it's not the same in Spain or Italy", he said.

The victims' advocate called on the Pope to take the lead in bringing about the necessary changes to churches around the world.

"This is a monarchy. When there're no problems, a monarchy could be fine. Now, we're sure the system is the problem. The Pope knows all those problems, because the French cases were not the first such scandals with Catholic churches. The Pope can do the job [to tackle this problem]. If you're the Pope, what are you going to do with all that tomorrow?", Devaux said.

Devaux urged the Pope to set up similar investigative commissions in other countries to address cases of abuse.
Pope Francis said on Wednesday that he was "ashamed" of the sexual abuse of children by paedophile priests in France.

"I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered. It is also my shame, our shame, for the incapacity of the church for too long to put them at the centre of its concerns", the supreme pontiff said.

The Pope urged all bishops to take action to ensure similar abuses would not be repeated.
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