Prominent French priest, educator accused of sexual abuse

La Croix International [France]

January 26, 2022

By Félicien Rondel

The late head of a large and prestigious institute in Lyon that educates students aged 2-22 has been accused of improperly touching minors in holiday camps he oversaw

The Archdiocese of Lyon, one of the oldest and most venerable centers of French Catholicism, is once again in turmoil due to the Church’s ongoing sex abuse crisis.

For the second consecutive week there have been fresh revelations of abuse committed years ago about a prominent local priest – this time by the late Father Georges Babolat, former director of the famed “Institution des Chartreux”.

Two Lyonnaise media outlets – the daily newspaper La Tribune de Lyon and the online site Mediacités – revealed on January 21 that three women have accused Babolat of molesting them in the 1990s when they were little girls at a holiday camp he ran in the mountains.

The priest, who died in 2006 at the age of 74, was the superior of Les Chartreux in Lyon from 1978 to 2001.

In addition to overseeing this large and prestigious institute that educates more than 2,600 students aged 2-22, he also ran the Chalet des Forêts holiday camps in Haute-Savoie for children and teenagers.

It was reported that prosecutors began investigating allegations against the late Father Babolat in 2016, but then dropped them a year later.

An “admired” priest

The priest was in-charge of the Chalet des Forêts youth camp for about 15 years. And that is here he is alleged to have molested the three young girls.

Mediacités reported that he served as “camp director, facilitator, cook, as well as nurse”.

He’s been accused of making inappropriate touches that were not in keeping with the necessary care while examining children at the camp.

Father Babolat was an influential figure in Catholic circles in Lyon and French President Jacques Chirac awarded him the prestigious Legion of Honor award in 2001.

When he died in 2006, many religious figures paid tribute to him in a 52-page booklet published by the Institution des Chartreux.

Among those who wrote tributes of “esteem” and extolled their “friendship” with Babolat was the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (d. 2012), the renowned Jesuit biblical scholar who was archbishop of Milan from 1979-2002.

Another Church figure who praised the priest in the booklet was French Bishop Pierre Pican who was given a three-month suspended sentence in 2001 for not reporting a pedophile priest in his diocese to civil authorities.

Promise to open archives not acted upon

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was archbishop of Lyon from 2002-2019 (though he officially “retired” in 2020), presided at Father Babolat’s funeral Mass.

In his homily, the cardinal spoke of his “admiration” for the priest’s “spirit of service”.

Many other testimonies praised Babolat’s fatherly side, commitment to young people and sense of welcome.

A mother of one of the priest’s alleged victims contacted Cardinal Barbarin in 2016 before filing her complaint.

She and the cardinal exchanged a series of letters, the archdiocese confirmed to La Croix.

Barbarin “asked for forgiveness in the name of the Church for this scandal”, the letters showed.

But Tribune de Lyon said the cardinal also promised to open the archives on Babolat, something he never did.

The investigation closed without follow-up

A mother of another alleged victim then sent a letter to the state prosecutor in Lyon in April 2019 and a preliminary investigation for sexual assault on minors was opened.

During the inquiry, the woman’s daughter and another young woman confirmed that they had been improperly touched by Babolat in the 1990s.

The archdiocese sent a report to the prosecutor’s office in November 2019 after Cardinal Barbarin had been effectively removed as archbishop.

The file was closed without action in April 2020, without having established complicity.

At the time the archdiocese said that “since the 2019 report, no other witness has come forward”.

Though the three alleged victims were not enrolled in the Institution des Chartreux, there were strong links between Chalet des Forêts youth camp and the school.

In fact, winter classes were held at the chalet and many students went there for summer holidays.

“For me, it was the ‘Chartreux camp’,” a person who vacationed there while growing up told La Croix.

But the vacations stopped after Father Babolat died.

“Systemic crime”

Organizers of the camp organized a meeting with the alleged victims as soon as the first allegations appeared in 2016 in order to take their statements.

Members of La Parole Libérée – a support group for people who had been sexually abused as kids by former Lyon priest, Bernard Preynat – also attended that meeting.

La Croix contacted the group’s founder, François Devaux, who said it was essential to “reflect on the notion of systemic crime”.

He noted the latest revelations of pedocriminality by clerics or religious in Lyon. These include recent accusations against Father Louis Ribes, who died in 1994.

The archdiocese has admitted that there are likely “many victims” he abused in the 1970s and 1980s.