International

French actor breaks silence on child sex abuse inside church

By The Associated Press

Paris: At the age of eight, Laurent Martinez was sexually abused by a priest. Forty years later, he has chosen to turn his story into a play, to show the disastrous consequences and how speaking up can help victims heal and rebuild.

A play called “Forgiveness”? Taken from the French writer and actor’s own life, describing how he ate from the inside out of abuse and struggled with daily life thereafter.

Martinez’s play was shown to bishops earlier this year, A. before the presentation of An unprecedented report from last week estimated that around 330,000 children were sexually abused in France Within the Catholic Church of France over the past 70 years.

Despite the shocking revelations, Martinez said there is “no – at all – sense of urgency” within the church.

“They’re clearly surrounded by numbers” but “they’re just talking, talking, talking,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

For Martinez, now 52, ​​the memories of the abuse are vivid.

He said the priest who was teaching his Catechism classes found excuses to see 8-year-old Martinez alone, kiss and touch his genitals. One day, Martinez recalls, the abuser invited her to his apartment and forced the boy to perform oral sex. Under French law, this would be classified as rape.

Martínez later told his parents, who alerted the diocese, and the priest was taken away. They believe the priest is now dead. Like most victims of sexual abuse in the church, especially prior to the church abuse scandals of 2000, Martinez did not seek legal recourse. Now it will be too late because of the statutes of limitations.

For decades, Martínez suppressed the abuse inside himself, only talking about it to his two wives.

“For me, sexual relations were marked as something forbidden in me. So it has been very difficult for me to go through it, and I had to find a very patient partner,” he said.

The play shows how the abuse affected her emotional and sex life as an adult, causing her to sometimes become aggressive or over-react to everyday concerns – but also how it also affected her children. very protective of.

Martinez said he spent 40 years “wearing someone else’s mask” and “trying to hide something that was like cancer in me.”

A few years ago, he realized that he needed to speak up because he was fed up with keeping the trauma inside him.

“I thought: I need to do something. It is not possible to continue like this,” he said.

The play was first shown at the Avignon Arts Festival in 2019. That was also when he first told his two sons, now 21 and 11, about the abuse. Since then, Martínez’s play has been playing in theaters in Paris and France, and a performance of it was shown on the French Catholic television network KTO.

“I’ve been in pain for so long, and now I’m an actor… I’m acting out my pain. I’m not in it anymore,” he said.

In recent weeks, Martínez, who had lost his trust following the abuse, took a new, decisive step. After much hesitation, he asked Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, head of the Conference of Bishops of France, if he could seek Martinez’s pardon in the name of his misconduct.

“She accepted and it was emotionally overwhelming for everyone that night,” Martinez recalls. “I gave my pardon to the priest who raped me.”

After that, “I really felt completely free from the whole burden of anger, completely free from the desire for revenge. All the bad feelings that I had just vanished, just because I forgave,” he said.

“Little by little the trauma is disappearing,” Martinez said. “The thing that helped the most was being able to forgive the priest.”

The actors had previously been in contact with Moulins-Beaufort, who supported the play and offered to show it to French bishops as part of the Church’s efforts to confront the long-covered shameful mysteries.

The proposal is a testament to the Catholic hierarchy’s late realization that listening to survivors is a fundamental part of the Church’s own process of coming to terms with the problem and helping them heal.

Pope Francis realized this at the 2019 summit, which he convened with the heads of conferences of all the world’s bishops, giving horrific testimony about the abuse of victims and the lifelong trauma it causes. For many bishops, this was the first time they had actually listened to a survivor, as the church often neglected the victims or treated them as an enemy in order to harm the institution.

Among the many recommendations reported last week about church abuse in France are measures that will institutionalize ways for the church hierarchy to better help and listen to victims. The report estimates that at least 2,900–3,200 male clergy members were responsible for the sexual abuse of children in France since the 1950s, and accuses the church of a systematic coverup.

Martinez knows that her play is helping other people who faced similar difficulties, and hopes it will encourage them to speak up and seek help.

Some “come over to see me and say: ‘Thank you so much, because you know, that’s my story too. And you’re the first person I’m saying this.'”

“The hardest thing is to say it once,” Martinez insisted. “Then you find the strength to say it over and over. And then you are free, or at least you are on a good path to freedom.”

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