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    Victim recalls harrowing memory of sexual abuse by French priest

08:41 13 October 2021 Author :  

A victim recalled harrowing memories of an assault by a French priest that traumatized her and caused psychological issues.

Laurence Poujade, 55, head of the Sentinelle Association that works for victims of abuse in French Christian communities, spoke exclusively to Anadolu Agency and said she was sexually assaulted by a priest when she went to Guinea with a religious foundation 25 years ago.

France was shaken by revelations that 216,000 children have been sexually abused in churches since 1950. When cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by employees in private schools and institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church are added, that figure soars to 330,000.

According to the report released by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in Churches (CIASE), 15,000 adults have been subjected to sexual violence in churches in the last 70 years. The number rises to 35,000 with cases in church-affiliated institutions.

Poujade described the numbers as "worrying" and "shocking."

"This is a tsunami. It was shocking. These numbers are average. These numbers are actually higher because there are people who died or did not speak,” she said. “It is really important to reach these figures. The report enabled all these anonymous lives to go down in history. The report’s emphasis on the responsibility of the church is historic.”

Poujade said the numbers show the extent of abuse and a system that has been implemented to perpetrate (sexual) abuses and silenced victims.

She recalled the abuse she had to endure at the hands of a priest she had no spiritual bond or contact with before she was sexually assaulted.

“The priest threw me to the ground angrily, attempting to rape and sexually assault me, taking advantage of me being on the ground. When I got up to report what had happened to an authorized person, he beat me to keep me quiet,” she said.

She was 30 when the assault occurred.

‘The (Christian) community asked me to cut off all contact with my family and not to tell what happened’

“It had serious effects. The (Christian) community asked me to cut off all contact with my family and not to tell what happened. But my family understood because there were marks (on my body), they saw the bruises. I didn't have the freedom of speech to explain what caused it,” she said, referring to efforts by the church to keep her from taking.

The assault caused her to question her ideas about marriage and having children and Poujade said there was no one around her to talk to at that time.

“I was able to start talking (about this attack) after six years. I faced psychological problems because of this attack. My physical health gradually deteriorated,” she said.

Poujade said that it is important to include in the report that the Catholic Church should accept the findings of the probe and pay compensation to victims.

After the assault, her family founded the Religious Life and Family association to fight abuse cases and she has been the president of the Sentinelle Association for 10 years.

She told what happened to her to the commission

Poujade said victims that Sentinelle supports suffer consequences of sexual assault and some have committed suicide.

She told her story to the commission twice and said some of her recommendations were not included in its findings. Women had difficulty in making their voices heard in institutions, she said, also in CIASE.

Sentinelle started a petition to get churches to fulfill their responsibilities, Poujade said that not only the church but also society should do their best to bring churches to account.

Poujade said she had difficulty finding a job after the assault and it was not easy to restart her social and professional life after being in a religious community.

‘Adults are subjected to abuse’

“Many parents do not know that their adult children in (Christian) religious communities are being abused. This is of great concern because after the parents die, adult children will realize that they are on the wrong track and are under the protection of untrustworthy people,” said Poujade.

She said the president of the Bishops' Conference of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort’s statement on Oct. 6 that said, “the secrecy of the confession was stronger than the laws of the Republic,” attracted a great deal of criticism because it prevented the emergence of sexual abuse cases.

She said the secrecy of confession in churches should be re-evaluated in line with the Catholic faith so that children who have been sexually abused can speak.

CIASE member Laetitia Atlani-Duault stressed that confessional sessions should not prevent priests from reporting cases of child sexual abuse.

According to French law, anyone who has information about the sexual assault of minors under the age of 18, is obliged to report it to the police./agencies

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