CNA Staff, Nov 21, 2023 / 12:26 pm (CNA).
A French bishop has been charged with the attempted rape of an adult man that allegedly took place more than a decade ago.
Bishop Georges Colomb of La Rochelle and Saintes was reportedly charged on Friday with the 2013 attempted rape of an adult man. In a statement published on Monday, the French bishops’ conference said it had “learned of the indictment of [Colomb]” and his “placement under judicial control.”
“This indictment concerns facts that [Colomb] disputes,” the bishops said. “They would have occurred in 2013 as part of the Foreign Missions of Paris, of which Georges Colomb was then the superior.”
“By reaffirming its confidence in justice, the bishops’ conference expresses its concern for the person concerned and recalls the presumption of innocence to which Bishop Georges Colomb is legitimately entitled,” the statement said.
“To those who will be disturbed or injured by this information, especially within the Diocese of La Rochelle and among the friends of the Foreign Missions of Paris, the bishops’ conference expresses its closeness. May the Lord who presents himself as ‘truth’ enlighten and strengthen everyone.”
Three French news outlets earlier this year published a joint investigation into three cases of alleged abuse by priests connected with the Paris Foreign Mission Society. The reports alleged in part that Colomb, a former superior of the society, had committed the attempted rape in the year in question. Following those reports, the newly established National Canonical Criminal Tribunal opened an investigation into those alleged abuses.
The French investigative news outlet Mediapart said in a Monday report that Colomb “was presented to an investigating judge on Friday” and indicted for the attempted rape and that as part of the judicial control order he had been given “a ban on contacting the victim and witnesses as well as appearing in certain places.”
Pope Francis appointed Bishop François Jacolin, bishop of the Diocese of Luçon, as the apostolic administrator of the diocese in June. At this time, it was announced that Colomb would retain the title of bishop of La Rochelle and Saintes, pending the results of the investigation.
Mediapart said that several Church authorities are alleged to have been aware of the allegations for several years. Bishop Gilles Reithinger, an auxiliary bishop of Strasbourg and former superior of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, had earlier this year also been accused of having mismanaged the accusations of abuse against Colomb.
Reithinger’s lawyer told Mediapart this week that the bishop “had nothing to reproach himself for and that he had perfectly respected the rules of law.”
The French news outlet also alleges that Cardinal Philippe Barbarin may have been made aware of the accusations by 2016. Barbarin in 2019 was convicted by a French court of failing to report sexual abuse of a minor, though in 2020 an appeals court acquitted him of that conviction.
Barbarin would subsequently resign as archbishop of Lyon following his acquittal.
The Paris Foreign Mission Society currently has more than 180 priests. It sends 150 young volunteers each year as missionaries to Asia.
The missionary religious society has an illustrious history. It has sent more than 4,000 priests as missionaries to Asia since its founding in 1658. Many of its priests suffered martyrdom in past centuries in China, Korea, and Vietnam, 23 of whom have been canonized as saints by the Catholic Church.
Two other priests in the society, both former missionaries in Japan, have also been accused of rape.
Matthew Santucci contributed to this report.