Jesuit leader encourages sexual abuse victims to testify

By Céline Hoyeau
La Croix International
July 9, 2019

François Boëdec SJ.

Head of French-speaking Jesuit Province of Western Europe acknowledges congregation has been slow to act but insists it's been 'deeply affected' by victims' stories

A Jesuit provincial has defended his congregation against accusations it has dragged its feet over the issue of sexual abuse and says its attitude toward the issue has been "transformed" after meetings with victims.

The Society of Jesus in France has just published an appeal in which it encourages victims of abuse committed by Jesuits to make themselves known to the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church and its own professional conduct team.

La Croix's Céline Hoyeau discussed the issue with Father François Boëdec, head of the French-speaking Jesuit Province of Western Europe. Father Boëdec is the first provincial of this new grouping that unites the former provinces of France, Southern Belgium and Luxembourg, together with some communities from Greece and the islands Mauritius and Réunion.

La Croix: For several years now, you have been questioned by victims who are waiting for the Society of Jesus to speak out. Why are you communicating now?

Father François Boëdec: The call for witnesses launched by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase) seemed to us to be an opportune moment because we wanted to review the testimonies that reached the professional conduct team we set up in 2014.

We wanted to encourage all victims of abuse committed by Jesuits who have not yet come forward to testify.

I believe we have been successful in dealing with emergencies. On the other hand, knowing how to deal with old situations, which concern Jesuits who are mostly deceased, has taken us more time.

We have moved forward thanks to the victims, who have pushed us to speak out. We testify that these meetings have set us on the road and transformed us.

It is also important for them to realize that we hear them and that we are deeply affected by what they have experienced. It's our story, we have to face it. And we are determined to do this work and confront the problem.

Some victims say they do not wish to send their testimony to Ciase because they feel discouraged by the Church's slow reaction. What do you say to them?

I understand very well, even if I regret it, that some victims no longer trust the Church and do not wish to give their testimony to us but Ciase is an independent commission and can, as such, allow them to feel confident to speak.

In this sense, we sent a personalized message to all those who had contacted us to encourage them to now contact Ciase, as well as all associations of former students of Jesuit schools. We are indicating that we Jesuits are eager for the victims to come forward.

It must be understood that these testimonies are important to us as well. This provides information and more objectivity. This makes us look at what happened and how these abuse allegations have been dealt with to date.

This allows us to express that we have failed in our mission in this or that situation; that it is a shame, a great sadness for us. Secondly, it helps, I hope, the victims themselves. In the majority of cases, the people we receive tell us they are relieved to have been heard.

We are committed to researching and communicating the results to victims every time.

In some cases, it is frustrating when our records do not reveal anything, either because there were no reports at the time or because the cases were settled orally in the past. But when we know of other victims of the same abuser, we say so, and it is important for the victim to know that.

We also want to make it clear that Ciase will have access to everything it wants to have access to - but it should also be noted that the files of Jesuits in France in our archives represent 500 linear metres! The testimony of victims is therefore particularly useful.

How can we fight against the weariness caused by the series of revelations in the Church?

It is the whole Church that is wounded. There is certainly a weariness but I think everyone wants us to go to do all we can in the name of truth and free speech. The pope also encourages us to do so.

In any case, if the media or us ever feels tired of the subject, the victims never do. They want us to provide guarantees that no one will ever have to suffer what they have suffered again.


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