(72 victims identified up until 1991. 19 public testimonies made)
18 - Laurent, 46 years old.
"Come with me to the office"
Testimony of Laurent Duverger "La parole libérée" France Culture
"I joined the St. Luc Scout Group in 1978 at the age of 9 and was to receive special attention from the priest from the end of 1979 up until 1982."
When we used to meet on Saturday afternoon he would often ask me to go with him to the office. I would follow him docilely and it was in the robing room on the top floor of the church that he would grab hold of me, press me against himself and start to fondle me. He would take my hand, move it over his face and between his legs, sometimes bending down for me to kiss him.
The indelible memory of the horrendous smell of cold cigar and his sordid breathing when I was pressed against his stomach has never left me. There was also the incident where he caressed my penis when we were on a coach during a trip to Corsica in 1982. I was sat on his knee on the seat behind the driver, out of general view but still in public none the less.
I felt very uncomfortable, but what could I say. What could I say? How could I say it? Who could I tell? These are questions which have haunted me for a long time.
This questioning, as Jérôme has said, points to the ambiguity of our relationship with the priest. But you must remember that at that time, he stood for absolute authority: he was the adult, the leader, the priest, so me, the child, I told myself “Perhaps, after all, I’m lucky he makes a fuss of me.” Even if somewhere in my head, the OFF button had been pressed… That’s how you end up persuading yourself that it’s normal, he just likes us (or he likes us a bit more than others)… and life goes on. I told my mother about all this in 1990 when I was 21 - she wouldn’t listen and asked me to be quiet. I did as she asked ... a chance to be released from my burden had been dashed; I’d opened ‘the lid’, but to my amazement it had immediately been shut, and more tightly still.
If my own mum wouldn’t listen (or believe me even, who knows?), who would? So I went on telling myself that nothing had happened and it would be another fourteen years before I sought ‘outside’ help, finally feeing myself from this burden....My father never deemed to approach the subject and one day simply said, “Laurent was an adult when he spoke up”. His reaction was chilling!
I haven’t had any contact with my family for twelve years now for reasons which stem from their indifference. My parents always passed themselves off to be respectable, middle-class people, good Catholics (that’s to say attending mass on Sundays, no more, no less) and they were very friendly with everyone. This meant that everyone (acquaintances, friends and family) turned their back on me, it was unbelievable, all of a sudden I became ‘the guy with problems’, the ungrateful one!
It’s therefore not surprising that this priest was able to carry on abusing for such a long time, indirectly covered by those who had the power to act at the time, just like those who today retort that there was no penetration, so it was nothing really serious. Moreover, I was astonished to find out that he had made written confessions yet nothing had happened. Did the Church not also cover him, preferring to move the problem elsewhere rather than face a scandal?
It seems today that it’s difficult to say the Church didn’t know...
In connection with this, I was received by the auxiliary bishop, the Right Reverend Brac de la Perrière on June 24th 2011 at 10 o’clock. At our meeting he was very reassuring, confirming "that they had their eye on Preynat and that he was no longer in contact with children…"
Seeking revenge or settling scores is a million miles from my mind, but as a victim from 1979 onwards, I now need and want justice.
Thanks to François and all the others, whether victims or not, I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to play a part.
And this time no one will tell me to be quiet.
13 - Jean-Yves, 46 years old.
"Me, as an adult I am this boy whose childhood was violated. I am a victim."
After taking part in a holiday camp in Sainte Suzanne in the summer of 1976 which was run by Father Preynat, I joined the St. Luc Scout Group in September/October 1977. After being a sixer with the akelas in the Benjamin pack, I later became an Explorer with ‘les Noirs’ where I was Section Leader I think. I remained a member of the group up until the summer of 1980. My factual memory is, of course, patchy, not something I regret, however, as I realise that that’s what enabled me to somehow get by without being completely destroyed. Now aged 46, I was 7 or 8 at the most when it all started, but today am unable to say precisely when Father Preynat began his personalised sessions dedicated to building up my soul. I can’t say exactly how many sessions I was subjected to either. What I do know, however, is that they did happen and that they went on for nearly two years, at least until certain things that were said made my parents suspicious. My mother went to see Father Bernard to ask for an explanation and I wasn’t re-enrolled after that. I spent a long time without fully knowing what had happened even if everything was always there, just under the surface water of my existence, not forgotten but obscured by the shimmer of the rest what was going on in life. What happened was even the subject of complicity when, with my brother we would recall those days – smiles full of implications. But I knew it had involved me and my laughter was hard to swallow. And yet at the same time it was as if it was all held at a distance, until one day, two years ago in May 2014, I associated to my own experience words which, up until then, for me, had referred only to the lives of other people, not mine. It’s not easy to describe the moment when you realise something like that: it’s as if you explode and collapse at the same time, disbelief is coupled with certitude, your tears are tears of pain but also tears of joy at being set free; you’re suffocating and vomiting all at once. Me, as an adult I am this boy whose childhood was violated. I am a victim – the victim of a paedophile priest – and every word is like a cluster bomb. This testimony, for me, is a taking stock of the situation as well as a stage in a process which, contrary to what I thought, is not over yet. It helps me to understand myself better and to claim my life back. My first romantic relationships and the beginning of my sexuality were very complicated. I was petrified but didn’t know why. Being self-confident is something I’ve always struggled with and today I understand more why I have always abhorred abuse of authority and why I’ve always been bent on fighting it, sometimes excessively so, to almost suicidal levels even, if judged from an outsider’s view point and strangely enough, in my mind I’ve always said to myself: ‘No, I won’t buckle under just because this person is someone in authority’... I’m now 46 years old and even if I feel I haven’t come off so badly, I wonder what my life would have been like if its foundations hadn’t been a morass. I was groped by Father Bernard on several occasions when he would call me into his office in the middle of the day. How many times? When? It’s impossible to be precise but it did happen and that’s certain. One particular incident, set firmly in my memory, was played out like all the others. It’s September 1978, during the camp in Germany and Father Preynat has sent for me to go to his office/bedroom in the Youth Hostel in Montabaur. He puts me on his knee, presses me to himself and gropes at my body, his hand under my clothes: my thighs, my chest, my back, my stomach before it forces its way below my belt. His breathing is heavy – I realise only now that this is because he’s getting aroused! While all this was going on I remember him chewing on a match which made him sound so strange when he spoke. The worst thing, however, happened at another point during the holiday. We’d gone off on a walk which was to end with us camping-out in the countryside for the night. That evening Father Bernard called me into his tent to spend the night there. For a long time what had happened didn’t register, and although there was a total blackout, recalling events causes a sense of stifled and deep uneasiness. All I had was this image of my sleeping bag in his tent. Seeing his photo on the television programme ‘Sept à Huit’ was like being punched in the gut. I’d seen photos of paedophiles in newspapers before, but when I saw his, my reaction had never been so instinctively nauseating. My body is now reacting, is starting to tell me things and the veil is starting to be raised. All of the images of what happened haven’t come to me as yet, but that was one sordid night. Writing this testimony is more difficult than I imagined. How should I testify? This problem has been haunting me for a few days. Who am I testifying for? For that lady parishioner who refuses to believe (here I’m referring to the ‘Sept à Huit’ television report), for the police who need very precise information, for other victims who don’t dare or who aren’t able to speak out? For myself? Who am I going to testify to? What’s the point of doing it if my memories are vague as some are sure to point out? Anyone who does not want to believe will always find a reason to reassure themselves about their decision, but ever since I made up my mind to testify, my stomach has been churning almost every day, at home, at work... I know I’m due to explode again because I can feel things swelling up just like they did two years ago. As I want to remember everything in order to free myself of this burden completely, I have to break down all the barriers which have protected me up until now. There will be those who will chose not to believe our testimonies because the man as they knew him was this smooth, very charismatic public figure full of fine words who seduced and deceived us. He was, however, also this other person who knew full well what he was doing and who went on doing it for over 20 years in spite of parents intervening on more than one occasion and in spite of ‘admonishments’ from his superiors… Fortunately, there are his confessions. Whether you knew him or not, if you feel sad or sorry for this ‘elderly man’ or this person who ‘lost his way’, do not lose sight of the fact that he had no pity for us, the mere children we were. Before looking to excuse him (as some people have done or as some, a little hastily, still do), consider carefully everything he did, his every word, his every act and think that he could have done it to you or to your children. To excuse him or forgive even is up to his victims - nobody else. Even if this testimony, just one of many, is but a drop of water, at least there is a stream starting to take shape and I now feel comfortable to confront anyone. My testimony is not a stone to throw at Father Bernard. Constructing the truth is all that interests me. It will be up to the various legal authorities to punish him.
"He put his arms around me and asked me to do the same; he took my hands, put them behind his back..."
In 1980, aged 9 or 10, I was regularly (between 5 and 10 times) "called" to go to scouts on a Saturday afternoon (by whom? I don’t remember...) to meet Father Bernard Preynat in a room located below St-Luc Church, whilst my friends, other scouts, were playing near the church. He put his arms around me and asked me to do the same; he took my hands, put them behind his back (I remember the contact of his belt) and squeezed me tightly, making some kind of grasping sounds. I was as if compressed against his torso, he was stroking my hair, then he took my blue shirt out of my shorts but without going any further, made me understand that it was a secret.
I recall his look, the smells, the sounds, the feel of the place and above all the acute sense of embarrassment and uneasiness I felt in this situation which I knew was unhealthy and wrong. I told my mother what happened and she had a talk with him at our house, in which he apparently apologised, and his immediate superior in the parish was informed. In spite of this, I had to continue to be one of his choir boys and to attend his sermons for years, spending another two years with the scouts. But since his apology he had totally spared me, you could even say he ignored me but I made sure I was never left alone with him.
I was always led to believe that this priest ended up being removed indefinitely from any contact with children (as, amongst other, was claimed by his superior who conducted my marriage ceremony in St Luc in 1997...). At the time of the events I confided in a friend, P, who was also 9 or 10, having seen him emerging alone from that same room and he said something along the lines of "me, it’s the same, worse even". At that time I really thought that we were the only two children involved, and I was obliged to bury these incidents in the deepest part of me in order to manage to grow up, troubled by my sense of right and wrong and trust in adults having been thrown into question, wondering also “why me” and not someone else (…and so on.), troubled by the certainty that this evil, perverted, narcissistic man had managed to bring the community of an entire parish under his grip, inciting its devotion and admiration.
“On several occasions, Saturday afternoons in the parish, he would take me into a photo room where it was dark and quiet..."
It’s 1984 I think, maybe just before or just after. I’m 10 years old, seconder in the ‘Roux 2’ sixe. I’ve been in the Saint Luc Group for 2 years. I’ve lived in the parish since I was born; it’s where I was baptised, took my first holy communion, where I was confirmed...
We’re about to go off to a summer camp in Portugal with the scouts from the Saint Luc Group, organised for us, like every year, by Father Preynat. The programme includes outings, sports tournaments, a pilgrimage to Fatima, doing the ‘camper activity’ badge for some, the ‘chef activity’ badge for others. We’re in a camp site on the Atlantic coast. We’re so lucky to have a Leader like Father Bernard! What’s more, I’m one of his ‘pets’. Yes, so lucky! I’ve got all my badges and I’m disciplined.
On several occasions, Saturday afternoons in the parish, he would take me into a photo room where it was dark and quiet. You know, on the right at the top when looking from Saint Luc square. We’re at the top of the stairs. He closes the door. He takes me in his arms. He puts his hand inside my navy blue shorts, I don’t move. He squeezes me tightly, very tightly. He kisses my neck and rubs himself against my leg. I can still hear his breathing and his words of comfort. He says he loves me. He breathes deeply, deeper still, then nothing. I know it’s going to stop. It all lasts… a while; a few minutes. He tells me it’s our secret – the tone of his voice always well-meaning. When I leave the room I go over to the others and strangely I feel proud at being Father Bernard’s chosen one. He does so many things and is admired so much by others - he must therefore be worthy of admiration. My parents and their friends all speak highly of him. I don’t know his age, but he’s old. (Actually, at the time he wasn’t even 40…) “He’s exceptional. If all men of the cloth could be like him!” He is the corner stone of Saint Luc square. I say nothing to anyone. I wouldn’t be believed in any case. Fortunately it’s not always every Saturday …. But every time, in the parish hall, under the covered courtyard, I wait, filled with fear and apprehension lest, in his deep voice, he should call out ‘Alexandre!”. I’m 10 years old. There are lots of adults supervising us, mainly women. Accomplices...
The summer camp comes round. I’ve avoided all of the other camps which have taken place in the meantime, except the one in Belgium where nothing happened.
Seven days by the sea. Seven days trying to stay clear of this man. I come up with endless excuses so as not to find myself alone around him for fear he’ll ask me to go with him. The first night I’m bitten on the eye by an insect. I don’t dare say anything for fear of having to go to the sickbay and risk bumping into him. I’m being cautious. He asks me to go with him on more than one occasion but I always have an excuse. Apart from that, we’re having a good time (cooking, singing, going on outings, praying, I even remember walking the way of the cross in Fatima in a temperature of 104 degrees… What an adventure … (In a word we’re having a brilliant time and great experiences.)
Come on: just three more days to go... There’s a football tournament and I’m playing. The camp is empty as are the tents where we sleep at night
I don’t remember why, but as I’m going to get my medication (I suffer from a chronic illness), during half-time I think it was, Father Bernard follows me into my tent. He lays me down then lies down next to me. I then feel his weight and big stomach on top of me. Here we go again. He kisses me using his tongue, pulls down my zip, and puts his hand in. He rubs himself, breaths deeply. There’s nobody else apart from us. He’s more insistent. I hear someone outside and seize the opportunity. I go out, I run, I go back to the football pitch. We’re soon due to leave. When I get back home I tell me parents that I’m never going back to scouts. They don’t understand but they don’t object. I never go back to mass at Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon. I don’t say anything. A few years later as I’m having lunch with my parents, they tell me that there have been rumours about Father Bernard (he’s said to have groped a child from La Favorite School.). I’m 16. I tell them everything; that it’s true, that he’s a pervert (at that time the term paedophile wasn’t used). No reaction. They find it all unbelievable. That’s all…And they do nothing.
Then comes the greatest irony of all, he’s transferred to the village of Neulise, in the Loire, a few kilometres from our summer house. Nothing happens. Everything seems for the best in the best of worlds. After all, to speak ill of this man would be to attack the Church. And now for the ultimate perversity and obscenity; I later learn that certain residents of Neulise had organised the arrival of their new priest, claiming he’d been ‘kicked out’ of Lyon because he had ‘a lady friend’. “Look, there’s that charmer of a priest…” and there he was, all innocent and absolved, yet again. Another story was in the making and it wasn’t a story for children. Adults deciding to protect another adult through the misplaced loyalty of a community failing to uphold its duty of conscience. I was to see this man once more in the nineties when he was conducting the marriage of a friend’s sister. She was a Leader in the scouts and held him in great esteem. He has such a presence, mothers gather around him like flies. They adore him… with “his fine homilies and such well-chosen words.” So everything is just as it was. Me, I feel like spitting at him. My parents, once again, find it all unbelievable … But they do nothing.
The years go by. Believing him to have been old at the time, I thought he’d be long dead. In 2014, however, he’s only 68 years old, an Abbot at the head of a deanery and supervising children at Catechism classes. Still unperturbed, still protected. Everything is normal… Only this is the point where the true resurfaces.
"Then he slowly slid his hand up my thigh, bringing it up very high under my shorts..."
I was 10 the day it happened. I’d already been in the St. Luc scouts for two years and loved this group and its excitement. We were a tribe. Admittedly, Father Bernard was always shouting and was sometimes uncomfortably over tactile, but he was a priest and by his very essence, could not be ill-intentioned.
That afternoon we were in a room located behind the large meeting hall. We were being awarded one of those badges we used to take home proudly to our admiring mums for them to sew on our pull-overs
At the end of the meeting, when Father Bernard dismissed us, he asked me, grinningly, to stay behind for a while. I remember my friends as they were leaving the room… Some were smirking, knowing what was in store for me, others had cast their glances down at their shoes evidently ill at ease, and some even appeared jealous of the special attention the priest was paying me. I was blond, tall and slim… the perfect profile.
Once everyone had gone, he closed the door and, in a gentle voice, said to me “come closer” - the image of kindness. He then squeezed me tightly against himself in that strong embrace he was used to using in such an intimate moment. “Our Father Bernard must be really lonely to need these moments so badly” I used to think to myself in all my innocence.
He then removed my glasses and my beret and set them aside, doing the same with his own in order to be able to embrace me better. I remember his sighs which sounded almost like gasps. I even recall the colour of his shirt which was grey.
Then, bending down slightly, he took hold of my right leg with his left hand, raising it and pressing it against his hip. He held my thigh in this position with his hand. ‘Well…that’s strange! He doesn’t usually do that…’ Then he slowly slid his hand up my thigh, bringing it up very high under my shorts. He must have sensed that I felt uncomfortable because he then let me put my leg back down. Next he took my head in his hands and kissed me on the cheek. Whilst going from one cheek to the other, he kissed me on the mouth. I was completely dumbfounded.
"This is our secret, eh! I’ll be counting on you!"