January 18, 2020

L'ex-prêtre Bernard Preynat, jugé à Lyon pour de multiples agressions sexuelles. Photo prise le 13 janvier 2020

Lyon (AFP) – Accused of sexually abusing dozens of boy scouts in the 1970s and 80s, a French Catholic priest confessed in court Tuesday to “caresses” he knew were forbidden, and said for 20 years “it happened every weekend”.

At scout camps, “it could be four or five children a week,” Bernard Preynat, 74, told a court in Lyon on the first day of his trial for preying on boys.

“For me, at the time, I was not committing sexual assault but giving caresses, hugs. I was wrong.”

Sitting up straight in the dock Bernard, Preynat‘s voice quavered as he admitted the interactions “did bring me sexual pleasure.”

But while he knew the actions were forbidden, he said he only finally understood that they were illegal thanks to “the accusations of the victims”.

The accusers were aged seven to 14 when the alleged crimes were committed between 1971 and 1991, when Preynat was a scout leader in Lyon.

The allegations against him sparked the biggest crisis in the French Church in decades and last year saw a cardinal convicted of covering up the alleged crimes.

Preynat was defrocked by the Church last July.

Former scouts have claimed he touched and kissed them and forced them into reciprocal fondling while they were in his care, including at camps. He denies ever kissing the boys on the mouth.

Francois Devaux, one of Preynat’s accusers and the founder of a victims’ organisation, spoke of the “hell” his parents, who had alerted church authorities about his experience, had lived through, and his own “very difficult, very complicated” adolescence as a result.

He said he had tried to commit suicide.

“I think I used to be a bright child. After, I lived a very dark life… flirted with dangerous things,” Devaux testified. He was ten when it happened.

“Pain, anger… Whatever the court decides, the harm and the trauma suffered in my childhood will continue. My responsibility is that this must never happen again,” said Devaux.