La Croix International [France]
December 20, 2022
By Héloïse de Neuville
The Vatican has stripped retired Bishop Emmanuel Lafont of his priestly faculties and ordered him to carry out a life of prayer and penance at a monastery in France
The Vatican has convicted French Guiana’s retired bishop, Emmanuel Lafont, of sexual abuse, banning him from all public ministry and ordering him to stay in a monastery in mainland France to conduct a life of prayer and penance.
Numerous sources have confirmed to La Croix that the Dicastery for Bishops found the 77- year-old prelate guilty this past October, following a canonical investigation that was opened in April 2021. He is forbidden to carry out any pastoral activities, to wear his bishop’s insignia (the mitre, the crozier, etc.), to come into contact with his acquaintances in French Guiana as well as with young migrants.
“An emotional thought for the presumed victims”
Informed of the canonical decree concerning Bishop Lafont, the Association for Truth, Transparency and Moralization in the diocese of Cayenne, the capital and only Catholic diocese in French Guiana, “welcomed” the “sanctions decided by the Vatican”.
“Without prejudging the proven facts of which we are unaware, out of respect for the law, it seems important to us to have an emotional thought for these presumed victims who have told us of their sufferings,” said Patrick Louis-Ferdinand, the association’s president. The network of Guyanese Catholics was formed at the end of 2020, a few weeks after Bishop Lafont retired upon his 75th birthday. The group’s original aim was to try “to shed light” on “the opaque functioning of the diocese of Cayenne”.
Archbishop David Macaire of Fort-de-France (Martinique), the ecclesiastical province in which the Cayenne diocese is located, carried out the canonical investigation into Lafont. It was launched after La Croix revealed in April 2021 that the diocese had been shaken by two complaints that were filed against the bishop with the police in French Guiana capital.
One complaint, filed by a young Haitian asylum seeker, was for “abuse of weakness”. The other was submitted by a former diocesan employee who accused Lafont of moral harassment. The 27-year-old Haitian asylum seeker told investigators the bishop offered him housing in exchange for sex.
A preliminary investigation opened before the civil justice
According to the news magazine Marianne, which conducted the investigation in September 2022, two diocesan employees also testified to having knowledge of sexual relations between Lafont and young men he hosted at his residence. The bishop categorically denied this, even during his canonical trial, conceding only that he “lacked prudence” when he hosted young men at his home.
Although he was condemned by the Church’s justice system, Bishop Lafont remains presumed innocent before the civil justice system, which is following its course. He is currently subject of a preliminary investigation by the Cayenne public prosecutor’s office for aggravated human trafficking, aiding illegal residents and aggravated breach of trust.
When he arrived in French Guiana in 2004, Bishop Lafont enjoyed a solid reputation. With 13 years of experience in South Africa during apartheid, the “priest of Soweto” was warmly welcomed by the Catholics of the diocese.