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Issue Date:  June 16, 2006

French priest convicted of sex abuse


“His victims thought that they were knocking on heaven’s doors. In fact they were knocking on hell’s doors,” said French Attorney General Jacqueline Dufournet in a sex abuse trial against Fr. Pierre Dufour.

Dufour, 71, a former pastor at St. Jean de Maurienne in French Savoia was convicted on May 26 of rape and sexual assault and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Dufour will not be eligible for parole for 10 years.

The trial found that Dufour had raped a number of men and boys since 1963 in his diocese and that he targeted young people in social distress whose silence he gained by coaxing, gifts and threats. One of his high- profile victims was a seminarian at the time of the abuse. Jérôme Martin is now 36 and a priest.

Martin met Dufour in 1993 and considered him as “a spiritual guide.” Now Martin describes Dufour as “a predator.” When questioned about his relationship with Dufour, Martin confessed that at 23 he was still “naive and did not know anything of sexual intercourse.”

In 1997, the young man finally found the courage to talk to another priest who told him to leave St. Jean de Maurienne. After the trial, Martin asked his parishioners to pray for the “conversion” of Dufour.

Allegations against Dufour first came to light in the early 1990s, but a judicial investigation was stopped for lack of evidence. In 1992 the parents of Sebastien Gilodi, a young man who had been abused by Dufour, took allegations to the archdiocese of Chambéry, then headed Bishop Claude Feidt. The bishop told the family that he did not believe Dufour was guilty.

Gilodi filed a criminal complaint against the priest in 1995, but that too was closed because of lack of evidence. In 1997, the young man committed suicide.

Speaking to the media after the verdict, the current archbishop of Chambéry, Laurent Bernard Marie Ulrich, said that in the 1990s civil justice “had found nothing against Dufour.”

Alain Gilodi, the father of Sébastien, claims that the church’s hierarchy “closed its eyes.”

A criminal complaint was made against Dufour again in 2003. Dufour immediately confessed his earlier assaults, but under the statute of limitations he could not be tried for them.

Psychological experts described Dufour as “remorseless, guiltless, shameless and manipulative.” He is “dangerous” because despite his age he was likely to reoffend, they said.

In a Nov. 9, 2000, declaration, the French bishops said that bishops “cannot … remain passive, and even less cover up criminal acts.” It also said that priests found guilty of pedophilia have to answer to justice.

A follow-up brochure, Lutter contre la pédophilie, repères pour les éducateurs (“Fighting pedophilia, references for educators”), was released in April 2002. The 52-page brochure written by psychologists, theologians and lawyers, reminds teachers that they are obligated by law to report suspected child abuse. The brochure says that priests who hear the confession of a person admitting child sexual abuse must do everything they can to convince the person to turn himself in to authorities.

Marc Mazgon-Fernandes is a freelance writer based in Brussels, Belgium.

National Catholic Reporter, June 16, 2006

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