Currents News Staff
“And it was like automatic, you know. He wanted to go to the end to ejaculation. And I was just like an object for him, and I had the feeling and he did this a lot of time,” said Lucie.
Lucie is not her real name. She says she was abused by a priest. So does Liene Moreau and Laurence Poujade. None of their alleged abusers have ever faced trial. This is the story of the broken women of St. John. The order of the contemplative sisters of St. John was founded here at Saint-Jodard by Father Marie Dominique Philippe, who preached for the physical expression of affection.
“It was long after his death that the order recognized that he’d been guilty of sexual abuse. But for years there were rumors about other priests and other victims within the order,” Melissa Bell, Saint-Jodard, France.
Lucie was 18 years old and preparing to become an oblate, a lay person consecrated within the church when she says the abuse began.
“You can be 18 or 16 or 20. When you when you have not experienced sexuality and you have suddenly in front of you the sex of a man. It’s just a shock,” she said.
It took Lucie 15 years to be able to talk about it. She then says the church wouldn’t listen. In the criminal courts, the statute of limitations had expired. The Vatican now says it is investigating allegations made by several women against Lucie’s alleged abuser. He was removed from the community 10 years ago, but even now it is the strength of her faith that makes it so hard to take in.
“He’s a priest. He’s a father. He’s near God. He’s like God. He’s the Christ is living in him. He cannot do something like this. I think the worst was to talk. It broke me. It broke my body. In fact. I preferred to have been shot by a gun, or if I have just a leg handicap It’s okay. I can live my life. But here it’s a murder inside of your heart and of your soul, because it’s about faith also. So it’s like something is dead in me,” she said.
Liene was a novice when she was abused. The order of St. John’s says that her alleged abuser, Father Marie Olivier, is now being investigated by the Vatican. He declined our request for comment. Liene only began to put a word on what had happened to her two years ago and by then it was too late to take to the criminal courts.
“The psychological abuse was worse than the sexual abuse. It’s my inner life. He took my dignity, my femininity. All that I was,” she said.
Liene says the abuse went on for 15 years. In the letters she shows us, Father Marie Olivier suggests discretion, adding that his crazy love for her comes from Jesus. We reached out to the Vatican. Its spokesman wouldn’t comment on any specific allegations but did confirm that several clerics belonging to the congregation of St. John were being investigated. Laurence is a former nun who now heads a victim’s organization.
“We are talking about victims who don’t speak out. But what about those who went straight to psychiatric hospitals? What about those who mutilated themselves? I know one case, her parents called me to tell me that she had cut out her own tongue. What can you say? What happened for a victim to do that,” said Laurence.
Not all of the abuse took place here, but the order says that over the course of the last 45 years five priests have been found guilty of sexual abuse in civil courts with three under investigation. Furthermore, two priests have been found guilty of abuse in church courts.
French authorities wouldn’t comment, but the order of St. John gave us a statement, saying that it accepted that errors had been made in the past in the handling of cases of sexual abuse because of a lack of awareness of the suffering caused to the women.
We did try and ring the bell here at the Order of St. John but no one would speak to us on camera. What matters though now is that the order has recognized that there are victims other than those of the founder. Now that acknowledgment came just after Pope Francis had lifted the lid on what he called sexual slavery within the Order of St. John. So what did the Pope’s words mean for the victims?
“Well it was like a bomb,” said Lucie
“It’s a new beginning,” added Liene.
The Pontiff’s recognition may come late, but it does put words on a trauma that for so many had until now been unspeakable.