Actor breaks silence on abuse suffered by a priest as a child
French actor Laurent Martinez has spoken of the sexual abuse he suffered from a priest when he was only eight years old.
Martinez chose to turn his story into a play, to show the devastating consequences of such abuse and how speaking out can help victims heal and rebuild.
The play – called Pardon? – is taken from the French author and actor ‘s own life, describing how he felt devoured from within by the abuses of 40 years ago and struggled with everyday life afterwards.
Martinez’s play was shown to bishops earlier this year, ahead of the presentation of a groundbreaking report last week that estimated that around 330,000 children in France had been sexually abused over the past 70 years within the French Catholic Church.
Despite the shocking revelations, Martinez lamented that “there is no – absolutely no – sense of urgency” within the church.
“They are clearly criticized by the numbers” but “they just talk, talk, talk,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
For Martinez, now 52, memories of the abuse remain vivid.
The priest who taught his catechism classes found excuses to see eight-year-old Martinez alone before mistreating him.
Martinez later told his parents, who alerted the diocese, and the priest was removed. He believes the priest is now dead.
Like most victims of sexual abuse in the church, especially before the church abuse scandals of the 2000s, Martinez did not seek legal recourse. Now it would be too late because of the statute of limitations.
For decades, Martinez buried the abuse, speaking only to his two wives.
“For me, sex was marked in me as something forbidden,” he said. “So it was very difficult for me to go through this, and I had to find some very patient partners.”
The play shows how abuse affected his emotional and sex life as an adult, sometimes causing him to become aggressive or overreact to daily worries – but also how it caused him to be very protective of children.
Martinez said he spent 40 years “wearing someone else’s mask” and “trying to hide something that looked like cancer in me.”
A few years ago, he felt he needed to talk because he was fed up with keeping the trauma in him.
“I said to myself: I have to do something. It is not possible to continue like this, ”he said.
The play was first shown at the Avignon Arts Festival in 2019. It was also at this time that he first spoke about the abuse to his two sons, now aged. 21 and 11 years old. Since then, Martinez’s play has been performed in theaters in Paris and across France, and a performance has aired on the French Catholic television channel KTO.
“I’ve been in pain for so long, and now I’m an actor, so… I’m playing my pain.” I am no longer in it, ”he said.
In recent weeks, Martinez, who lost his faith as a result of the abuse, has taken another decisive step.
After long hesitation, he asked the president of the French Bishops’ Conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, if he could ask Martinez’s forgiveness on behalf of his attacker.
“He accepted and it was emotionally huge for everyone that night,” Martinez recalls. “I forgave the priest who raped me.
After that, “I really felt completely released from all the burden of anger, of the desire for revenge. All the bad feelings I had just had are gone, just because I had forgiven, ”he said.
“Little by little the trauma goes away,” Martinez added. “What has helped me the most is being able to forgive the priest.”
The actor had previously been in contact with Moulins-Beaufort, who supported the play and offered to show it to French bishops as part of the church’s efforts to deal with long-hidden shameful secrets.
The offering is evidence of the late realization of the Catholic hierarchy that listening to survivors is a fundamental part of the church’s own process of dealing with the problem and helping them heal.
Pope Francis became aware of this at a 2019 summit he convened with the heads of every episcopal conference around the world, which presented heartbreaking testimonies from victims about the abuse and trauma they have caused throughout. their life.
For many bishops, this was the first time they had actually listened to a survivor, as the church so often ignored the victims or treated them as an enemy to harm the institution.
Among the many recommendations in last week’s report on church abuse in France were measures that would institutionalize the means for the church hierarchy to better help and hear victims. The report estimates that at least 2,900 to 3,200 male clergymen were responsible for the sexual abuse of children in France since the 1950s, and accuses the church of systemic cover-up.
Martinez knows his play helps others who have gone through similar ordeals and hopes this will encourage them to speak out and seek help.
He said some “come to me and say, ‘Thank you so much, because, you know, that’s my story too. And you’re the first person I say this to.
“The hardest part is saying it once,” Martinez said. “Then you get the strength to say it over and over and over again. And then you are free – or at least you are on the right path to freedom.