“La Croix” exposes abuse in Community of the Beatitudes

La Croix International [France]

January 17, 2023

By Mikael Corre

Leaders of the international “new ecclesial movement” where one alleged abuser is now second-in-command and a French diocese where another transferred respond to exposé

Leaders of the Community of the Beatitudes, a “new ecclesial movement” founded in France in 1973 and now present in 27 countries around the world, have sought to defend themselves after a recent investigative report by La Croix revealed that two members of the community were accused years ago of sexually abusing Catholic boardings school students.

“First of all, we are thinking of the person called Florent by La Croix’s journalist and of all those who are suffering because of this situation. We want to express our compassion for them,”” the community said in a statement issued on Sunday.

It came three days after the paper’s weekend edition Hebdo reported that Florent (a pseudonym) was one of several students who were molested between 1998-2004 at a boarding school the community operated just outside Nancy in northeast France, about 150 miles from Strasbourg. Florent’s alleged abuser, Father Henri Suso, eventually left the Beatitudes and joined the southern diocese of Fréjus-Toulon near the French Riviera.

“We take the information contained in this article very seriously and are working with determination to clarify the questions it raises as quickly as possible,” the community concluded in its January 15 statement, promising to comment further in the coming days. The brief statement made no direct mention of the alleged victims of another priest, Father Dominique Savio, who was also named in the La Croix exposé. Savio – also known as Martin de Tours, Martin Silva and Georges Silva – is currently the No. 2 official of the Beatitudes and was “pastor” at the “Cours Agnès-de-Langeac” (CAL) school which the community ran from 1988-2007.

The Community of Beatitudes defines itself as “a Catholic community… (that) brings together in the same family consecrated sisters, brothers, priests, and lay members (married and single), who wish to follow Christ on the path of the Beatitudes by sharing a fraternal life, prayer life, and mission”. It claims to have 50 houses in 27 countries spread over five continents. There are three branches in the Americas, including one in Denver (USA); 11 in Africa; four in Asia; one in New Zealand; and 34 in Europe, including 15 in France.

“The alleged abuse was committed outside the diocese”

La Croix has learned that at least 10 former students of CAL in northeast France were subjected to acts by Fathers Dominique Savio and Henri Suso (names of historic Catholic figures the two priests took at their profession) that could be qualified as sexual abuse or assault, rape or attempted rape committed. Suso left the Beatitudes in 2009 to join the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon.

The diocese also issued a press statement January 15 noting that Bernard-Marie d’Alès – the name Father Henri Suso assumed when he left the Beatitudes – was actually incardinated into the Archdiocese of Albi, also in southern France, where the Beatitudes were originally based until 2011 when the Holy See put it under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Toulouse archdiocese. The statement from the Fréjus-Toulon diocese said “the events that were denounced date from twenty years ago, and were committed outside the diocese”. Actually, the abuse alleged by Suso-d’Alès, occurred eighteen years ago.

Over the past thirty years, several Church leaders, including Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon, have been alerted about reported instances of abuse at CAL. The facts brought to their attention were never reported to the civil justice system until February 2022. Church leaders never launched an internal investigation of the boarding school. Nor did they call for witnesses or possible victims to come forward.”

In 2011, as soon as Bishop Rey became aware of the accusations against Bernard-Marie d’Alès, respecting the wishes of the now adult victim who did not wish to initiate a civil justice process, a canonical procedure was conducted in connection with and under the authority of the Vatican (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). That led to sanctions against Bernard-Marie d’Alès, who now lives in the monastery of Salernes (Var) and no longer has a public ministry,” the diocesan statement said.

But Church leaders in Fréjus-Toulon have been vague about the exact nature of the sanctions that were placed on this priest. In fact, when La Croix began its investigation last October, he was still presiding over “healing prayers” at the convent of Dominican sisters in Salernes (within the Fréjus-Toulon diocese) where is the chaplain.”

Shedding light on this tragedy

“La Croix has learned that the priest was found canonically guilty on October 2, 2012, “of the crime of continuous sexual abuse without violence” on the person of Florent. In particular, he was forbidden to approach young people under the age of 25 for ten years. Yet, on January 4, 2016 – just four years after this unpublicized sanction – Father Bernard-Marie d’Alès was appointed chaplain of the Toulon-La Farlède prison, which has many inmates under the age of 25.

“In 2022, in accordance with the procedures now in force, the diocese made a report to the public prosecutor,” said the Frejus-Toulon statement. It never mentioned that the diocese failed to apply the canonical sanctions.

Public prosecutor Patrice Camberou confirmed that he received the report from the diocese and entrusted the case to the investigative unit of the local police. Bishop Rey and Father d’Alès should be heard soon.”

Bishop Rey reiterates his great solicitude and compassion for those who have suffered from these events,” the diocesan statement said. “He reiterates his determination that these dramatic situations be dealt with, in justice and truth, as well as his availability for all those who wish… Finally, he encourages the Community of the Beatitudes in which these events occurred to shed all possible light on this tragedy in order to make the decisions that will appear necessary,” the statement concluded.