Three-year suspended prison sentence required for pastor accused of failing to report sexual abuser


The case has not finished shaking the evangelical milieu of the Orleans region and opposes two visions of justice. In March 2022, Philippe Forest was convicted of raping three teenagers. While the pastor of the condemned man is prosecuted because he is accused of not having informed the authorities.

The Loiret Assize Court only needed a short time to rule on the charges submitted to it last spring. The trial began on Friday March 11 and the verdict had fallen on the night of the following Monday.

Philippe Forest, a mathematics teacher, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for rape and sexual assault. The charges against him took place between 2005 and 2018.

Two of the young victims were 13 and 14 years old, they attended the church where the man had various non-pastoral responsibilities. The justice sentenced him for rape and sexual assault on a 15-year-old minor "by a person having authority over the victim".

Forest, now 56, had claimed before the Loiret Assize Court that the plaintiffs were consenting and older. After changing churches in 2018, he told his new pastor that he "did things with young men". The latter failed in his duty to report him to the authorities.

Reporting to public authorities, a duty

Even before Forest's confession, the pastor had been informed by one of the victims, but he had chosen not to alert the authorities designated by law, considering it more useful to rely on the council of elders of his church. His view was that this was a moral issue, not a criminal one.

“I thought it was a moral, sexual fault. We didn't think about all that [...] I was told about things with young people, I didn't dig into it, maybe it was my mistake. I was probably naive, did he concede before the Orleans Criminal Court the November 15.

If the minister of religion did not consider it necessary to alert the authorities for "fear of being accused of having falsely accused someone", his colleague from the previous community of the condemned brought the facts to the attention of the justice as soon as he was informed by the family of one of the young people.

A legitimate and law-abiding attitude according to Nancy Lefevre, lawyer with the CNEF. She recalls that the person alerting the authorities "does not denounce a person, but facts to the police or the gendarmerie who have the means to investigate" and that the only legitimate authority in the matter is not the council of church, but the public power.

Without commenting on this case, Ms. Lefevre observes the importance of reconciling both the field of professional secrecy and the obligation to denounce abuses committed against minors or vulnerable persons. “Professional secrecy, she specifies, is restricted to the condition that the pastor learns the facts in his capacity as an ecclesiastical official”. However, he can exercise a conscience option and denounce them, and he even has the obligation to do so if the person has a repeat offender profile.

The CNEF, she says, has published prevention and support tools addressed to the various member churches, including a guide to combating sexual abuse. The umbrella organization has also created a listening service called “Stop Abuse”.

The Orleans public prosecutor requested three years in prison, suspended, and a fine of 1 euros, against the pastor who had knowledge of the facts. Judgment was reserved for December 500.

“This case may also be able to get things moving, to push the victims to speak”, observes Nancy Lefevre.

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: Shutterstock/Obatala-photography

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Summary of news from December 8, 2023

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