Child crime in the church: the stained glass windows of Father Ribes, a cumbersome legacy

Child crime in the church the stained glass windows of Father Ribes, a cumbersome legacy

Forty stained glass windows designed by Father Ribes, a Catholic priest who died in 1994 and accused of child crime still adorn several churches in the Lyon region, while waiting for victims, diocese and municipalities to reconcile their differences to settle this cumbersome legacy.

Among the incriminated works is "The Prodigal Son", a stained glass window in the church of Ste-Catherine (Rhône), where a child is kneeling before a priest.

"It feels like fellatio," said Luc Gemet, spokesperson for the group of victims of Father Ribes, bringing together around thirty people out of the 49 identified by the archdiocese.

The affair broke out in January 2022. In the process, the archdiocese had reported "very many victims" mainly in the 1970s and 80s. An additional scandal for the Lyon diocese, already affected by the resounding Preynat and Barbarin affairs.

The paintings and drawings of the man who was sometimes nicknamed the "Picasso of the churches" had then been removed from several sites. But installing stained glass, sometimes sealed in the windows, is of another technical complexity.

In Ste-Catherine, where seven other large cubist-style stained glass windows project their bright colors into the nave, a detail attracts attention: a black sticker hides the signature "RIB", the artist name of the clergyman .

Pending a formal withdrawal, Mayor Pierre Dussurgey took the initiative at the end of 2022, after a meeting with victims and the diocese,

Although statutorily owner of the building, built before the law of 1905 on the separation of the Churches and the State, the commune will not disburse anything.

Everything will be paid for by the diocese, which in 2022 announced to the six town halls concerned its decision to remove all the stained glass windows.

Logic, for Mr. Dussurgey, himself a "believer": "The Church is at fault, the Church must pay". "It was obvious, because the mayors found themselves faced with a situation that they suffered", abounds the archdiocese. "The first stained glass windows will be removed by the end of the summer".

Destroy or retain

An email from the town hall of Loire-sur-Rhône, announcing in January its decision to pay for the removal from its own budget without "putting the diocese to contribution", also made the victims jump.

"That atheists pay on their local taxes, I do not understand! The Church is responsible for its employee Ribes, it protected him and must pay", insists Luc Gemet. The archdiocese specifies that it has since announced to the town hall of Loire-sur-Rhône its intention to pay.

Also regretting the "slowness" of the process, the victims received support from the Be Brave association, which campaigns against sexual violence against children. "We want to avoid the closed door between the Church and the victims", affirms its president Arnaud Gallais.

Together, they strongly challenged the mayor of Charly (Rhône) for the removal of eight stained glass windows. Then a "constructive" meeting according to the two parties, made it possible to stop the principle of a withdrawal, the mayor Lionel Araujo evoking an estimate "of several tens of thousands of euros" sent to the diocese and a "consultation" of the population on "the future stained-glass windows".

The elected official refuses, however, to destroy the incriminated stained glass windows, as the collective demands to "put an end symbolically to all these crimes".

"This is a new request on which we had not committed. I will gladly return this + gift + to the diocese", assures the mayor. The archdiocese notes that the request of the victims was initially to keep the works, in particular as "evidence". And that among them, "opinions differ".

A final contentious case crystallizes the tension, in Givors (Rhône). Mayor Mohamed Boudjellaba announced in January that he wanted to "dissociate the work of man", condemning "the behavior" of Ribes but refusing to remove stained glass from a desecrated and restored chapel.

Saturday, with his heritage adviser, he would have reaffirmed this position to the victims: "it was very violent for them" because "he simply proposed to install a plaque indicating that the stained glass windows were made by a pedophile priest", s indignant the president of BeBrave. The town hall must respond publicly within the week.

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock/Brookgarden

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