Evangelicals take action against sexual abuse
“ Here we fight against sexual abuse. Do not be left alone with this burden. “ Stamped keywords “Protection – Listening – Information”, the posters should soon be posted on the walls of places of worship and evangelical associations in France. On the evening of Wednesday, June 9, the National Council of Evangelicals of France (Cnef) indeed organized an online seminar, open to all, to reaffirm the importance of relaying its vast campaign to fight against this scourge, unveiled at the press a week earlier.
At the origin of this project, a painful realization, which arose in 2018. “The phenomenon is far from new, but the overall mood of that year – against the backdrop of cases of pedophilia in the Catholic Church and revelations with the #MeToo wave in many spheres of society: cinema , fashion, sport… – made us realize the urgency of sweeping our doorstep as well ”, explains Baptist pastor Marc Derœux, vice-president of Cnef and head of a working group mandated, for two and a half years, on this file.
“We are aware that the Churches remain places of power and authority, and we have a responsibility for action, for setting an example so that we feel safe there”, he continues, specifying that he spoke on several occasions with the French episcopate on the devices already at work on the Catholic side. Made up of eight members from different currents of French evangelism, the cell for which he was responsible therefore recommended, at the beginning of June, the implementation of multiple tools for prevention and support for victims.
First and foremost, the publication of a “good practices” guide of around forty pages, offering theological, legal and practical insights into the management of cases of abuse. Another unprecedented measure, 79 of the 80 delegates of the Cnef, gathered in the Plenary Assembly, voted on Tuesday 1er June the adoption of a “Charter of commitment”. “We recognize, with humility, that sexual abuse has taken place and unfortunately can still take place in our churches and works. (…)“, states the text.
Unlike countries where evangelicals are particularly numerous, such as the United States or Brazil, where such scandals have regularly hit the headlines in recent years, few cases have so far been publicized in France. “Since 2019, eleven files have been sent to Cnef. For eight of them, pastors or people in charge came to us to seek advice, after hearing about these situations, during confessions for example. Three cases of abuse are committed by officials or pastors, and three concern underage victims ”, specified at the beginning of June Nancy Lefevre, legal manager of the instance.
However, these figures are probably not very representative of the realities on the ground, according to Romain Choisnet, communication director of Cnef: “Unlike other churches, we do not operate in a pyramid fashion. There is no systematic feedback of what is happening in the local Churches, and the Cnef councils do not have authority: we too can learn, through the press, of the existence of such and such a case… ”
With this new awareness plan, he insists, the organization wants to encourage “Report and deal with situations in accordance with the laws of our country”. And within a few months, it intends to further develop a listening service, with specialized partners – in the psychological, medical, legal fields, etc. – to support victims, but also potential abusers.
“While some abused people still have the feeling, by speaking, of circumventing respect for the minister, for the man of God, this device sends a strong signal: that nothing justifies an abuse, in any form”, supports Françoise Caron, president of the national federation of Protestant family associations (AFP) and member of the working group. “It should no longer be taboo. If we remain silent, at our level, we will be responsible for the damage caused by silence and the unspoken, she continues, it is really time to open windows and lift the veil. “