Former bishop of French Guyana guilty of sex abuse, Vatican court says

Catholic News Agency - EWTN [Denver CO]

December 20, 2022

By Kevin J Jones

Bishop Emeritus Emmanuel Lafont of Cayenne, French Guyana, has been found guilty of sexual abuse in a canonical court and banned from public ministry, while the country’s civil authorities are investigating charges against him.

“He is under house arrest, in a monastery on mainland France,” the Bishops’ Conference of France told Agence France Presse. He must conduct a life of prayer and repentance. The bishops’ conference confirmed that the bishop faces a civil investigation.

Numerous sources have confirmed to the French newspaper La Croix that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops delivered a guilty sentence against the bishop emeritus in October.

As a consequence of the judgment against him, he may not wear his bishop’s insignia, the miter, or use a crozier. He must avoid contact with acquaintances in French Guyana and also avoid contact with young migrants.

The canonical investigation against the bishop was opened in April 2021 “because of rumors and accusations made against him evoking inappropriate attitudes towards adults.” The investigation was made public at that time after La Croix had reported on two civil complaints filed against Lafont in 2021 in Cayenne, the capital of French Guyana.

The Cayenne Diocese’s metropolitan archbishop is Archbishop David Macaire of Fort-de-France in Martinique, an overseas region of France in the eastern Caribbean. Macaire conducted the canonical investigation, according to La Croix.

The French-born Bishop Lafont was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Tours in 1970. He served in South Africa in the Johannesburg area from 1983 to 1994. He became known for being the only white priest to live in the black slums of Soweto, the French magazine Marianne reported. Lafont allied with foes of racial apartheid such as Nelson Mandela and Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Pope John Paul II named him bishop of Cayenne in 2004. He retired in October 2020 at the age of 75. Cayenne is the only diocese in French Guyana, an overseas region of France located in South America. It borders Brazil and Suriname. The predominantly Catholic region has about 294,000 people.

Yves Le Clair, a Cayenne prosecutor, told AFP the bishop faces a preliminary investigation for “aggravated human trafficking,” “aid to illegal residence,” and aggravated breach of trust.

One civil complaint against the bishop was made last year by a 27-year-old Haitian asylum seeker. He had told investigators that Lafont had offered him housing in exchange for sexual relations. The bishop denied the allegation.

A second complainant, a former diocesan employee, has made a charge of “moral harassment.”

In October 2020, the bishop filed a legal complaint alleging violence against a then 28-year-old migrant of Haitian origin he had been hosting. The accused disputed the charge, according to the news site France-Guyane.

Lafont was a prominent attendee at the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region. He authored a preface to the French edition of Querida Amazona, Pope Francis’ postsynodal exhortation on the Church in the Amazon.

The verdict against Lafont comes after other prominent French bishops have been accused of abuse or other misconduct.

The Bishops’ Conference of France held its plenary assembly last month. During the assembly, conference president Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Rheims said that eight bishops emeriti had faced or were facing justice proceedings. He did not name Lafont but he said some cases were known to the press, Marianne reported.