Reporters – Paris’s Catholic Foreign Missions Society under fire over alleged sexual abuse
Reporters - Paris’s Catholic Foreign Missions Society under fire over alleged sexual abuse FRANCE 24 English
The French Catholic Church Faces New Sexual Abuse Scandal within Paris’s Foreign Missions Society
The French Catholic Church is facing new accusations of a sexual abuse scandal within Paris’s Foreign Missions Society, an organization dedicated to spreading Christianity overseas. As a criminal investigation has been opened into accusations against three clergymen from the group, a FRANCE 24 investigation sheds light on the allegations against the society.
Another scandal that the Catholic Church could have done without: three criminal inquiries have opened in France into two priests and one bishop accused of sexual abuse.
The three men accused are all from the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP), an organization founded in France in the 17th century to convert overseas populations in Asia to Catholicism. Today it claims to have 150 priests based in 14 countries across India, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia.
Before the criminal inquiries were announced, a FRANCE 24 team was investigating the apostolic society to shed light on the inner workings of the prestigious institution suspected of covering up the acts of sexual predators working in its midst.
A series of scandals
The three criminal investigations now open in France concern two former missionaries in Japan, Father Philippe and Father Aymeric, as well as the bishop of La Rochelle, Georges Colomb, who is also the former superior general of the MEP.
They are respectively accused of rape, aggravated rape, and attempted rape. They have not yet been charged with any crimes and are presumed innocent. Father Philippe and Georges Colomb deny the accusations against them. Father Aymeric did not respond to a request for comment made by FRANCE 24.
In a conversation recorded with Father Philippe’s permission by his accuser, the priest spoke of a “system” which he was introduced into when he was a seminarian with the MEP. He said his superiors initiated him into an active sex culture in which they held influence over him.
“I was a good new recruit… as a sexual object,” he said in tears.
The accusations against Father Philippe, Father Aymeric, and Bishop Georges Colomb have all been made by alleged victims in France.
Yet accusations of sexual abuse against MEP members expand well beyond French borders.
FRANCE 24’s investigative team traveled to northwest Thailand, home to the Karen ethnic minority group, where it collected multiple witness statements accusing two priests of sexual aggression towards young children.
A code of silence
For more than 30 years, the village of Chong Kaep, close to the Myanmar border, was home to a boarding school run by Father Tygreat that housed up to 260 Karen children.
When Father Tygreat died in 2007, he left a complicated legacy. Residents in the region continue to celebrate the memory of the MEP missionary who, they say, came to bring knowledge and humanitarian aid.
But the priest’s sexual interest in young children also seems to be well known among locals. He is believed to have spent years offering the promise of a better future in exchange for sexual favors.
Challenging the system
Asked about tensions between Camille Rio and the organization, Superior General of the MEP Vincent Sénéchal said: “Father Camille Rio has led a number of projects. Unfortunately, the situation is tense and we hope that it can get better.”
Sénéchal maintained that the accusations against members were isolated incidents. “There is no culture of abuse within the Foreign Missions Society. We do not protect anyone who has crossed the red line of the law here.”
At the same time, there are a significant number of accusations that implicate the highest levels of the organization, and the profiles of the alleged victims often point towards their vulnerability.
In France, one victim was said to have been forced into nonconsensual sexual acts for financial reasons. A victim in Japan who claims to have been raped is on the autistic spectrum.
Attackers allegedly used the homosexuality of some victims – still a potent taboo in the Catholic Church – to their advantage. “If you are Catholic and gay there is shame, so we hide it,” said one whistle-blower. “Making a complaint would mean coming out as gay to everyone.”
Testimonies also claim that MEP members were able to take advantage of the prestigious reputation of their organization in the eyes of its followers and the church hierarchy.
The MEP said it is taking the accusations, which are now the subject of an internal inquiry, very seriously. Sénéchal announced in May 2023 the launch of a vast independent inquiry led by a private external company into abuse at the heart of the MEP since 1950.
Multiple sources in Thailand that spoke to FRANCE 24 indirectly incriminated a second MEP priest, as well as Father Tygreat, who used to work in the country and is still practicing in Asia. Father Camille Rio also reported this priest to the MEP.
The organization said that an investigation into the priest led by the local superior “had interviewed 11 people and did not establish a credible claim for assault”.
The documentary reveals the limits of this internal inquiry: facing the camera, the superior general of the MEP admits that it has not actively sought out victims due to a belief that doing so would risk forcing them to relive their trauma.
“There’s a difference between going out to find people and saying, ‘you were alive in this year, did anything happen?’ That is a proactive approach,” Sénéchal said. “What we have done is work with the information that we have available to us.”
The accumulation of accusations against the MEP has also not prevented two members climbing the ranks within the French Catholic Church.
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
SDG 5: Gender Equality
- Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
- Indicator: The article discusses allegations of sexual abuse against priests, including rape and attempted rape, highlighting the issue of violence against women.
SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
- Target 16.2: End abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
- Indicator: The article mentions allegations of sexual aggression towards young children by priests, indicating the issue of violence against children.
|SDG 5: Gender Equality||Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.||The article discusses allegations of sexual abuse against priests, including rape and attempted rape, highlighting the issue of violence against women.|
|SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions||Target 16.2: End abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against and torture of children.||The article mentions allegations of sexual aggression towards young children by priests, indicating the issue of violence against children.|
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