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CHARLY, France (ChurchMilitant.com) - The mayor of a French town has ordered churches to expunge all artworks by a priest who raped and abused at least 49 children and used them for pornographic pictures.
Responding to a petition from victims, Olivier Araujo, mayor of Charly (a town of 4,400 souls in Rhône), announced last Thursday the removal of several stained glass windows designed by Fr. Louis Ribes, a renowned artist priest nicknamed "Picasso of the churches."
Ribes, who employed bright colors and a vaguely cubist style, created dozens of paintings, stained glass windows, illustrated books, frescos and Stations of the Cross, abused his male and female child victims in the three dioceses of Lyon, Grenoble and St. Etienne.
Four of Ribes' victims are reported to have committed suicide because of the abuse. The predator priest, who died in 1994, targeted his victims from the 1970s to 1990s.
Ribes, who taught philosophy and art in local seminaries, often had minors pose nude for him in sessions that could end in abuse, victims said.
Church authorities ignored complaints from Alain, an 18-year-old seminarian at the Grenoble seminary of Estressin-Vienne, who stumbled across hundreds of images of "child pornography" drawn by the priest. Ribes taught scripture, exegesis and art at the seminary.
"There were hundreds of sketches, watercolors, naked children in indecent positions and even cruder things. Massive amounts of pornography," Alain said. He discovered the images in eight large drawing boxes placed next to a deckchair in Ribes' room.
Alain confided in his spiritual director but received a reprimand for "lacking respect for the community." Two days later, Ribes summoned the seminarian and rebuked him by saying, "You don't have to go through my stuff. You won't come to my classes anymore."
"One day, he had us listen to a piece of Aphrodite's child. For a good 5 minutes, we heard cries of pleasure from a woman who had an orgasm. His behavior puzzled me," says Alain.
Seminary authorities dismissed Alain at the end of the year, saying he would not qualify for ordination.
The victims of the priest, who died in 1994, have been asking the bishops to remove the artworks from churches, but despite a pledge from the archdiocese of Lyon last year to purge the parishes of Ribes' art, no action had been taken by the church authorities.
Ribes' stained glass windows remain in six churches of the Rhône, with churches in Loire-sur-Rhône, Dième, Sainte-Catherine, Charly and Givors. They are owned by local municipalities because the church buildings predate 1905.
Luc Gemet, a victim of the pedophile priest, said the artwork was "very figurative" and made him relive his trauma. "Any victim who sees his [Ribes'] stained glass windows finds himself immersed in what he experienced during his childhood."
"They date from the period when I was a victim and I saw him again in his workshop making his models, taking a break as soon as possible to assault me," says 58-year-old Gemet.
So far, 49 victims have testified to the Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, but according to Gemet, "[T]here are many more, perhaps 300."
Gemet described how the priest subjected him to repeated rapes and sexual assaults between the ages of 8 and 14, especially during sessions where the boy was asked to pose naked for paintings and stained glass windows.
In an interview, Annick Moulin, who was abused by Ribes from the time she was 8 to 12 years of age, said that the priest got her to pose naked: "I remember, we lay on his bed and sometimes on his knees. So he caressed me, touched me. It was always the same scenario."
"I lived in a form of denial, I suffered from traumatic amnesia, my psychiatrist explained to me about twenty years ago when everything came to the surface," Moulin, who shared her trauma with her husband, said.
In January 2022, the three dioceses of Lyon, Grenoble and St. Étienne published a joint press release stating that the testimonies of Ribes' victims have "acquired the certainty of the veracity of the facts."
In a separate statement published the same month, Olivier de Germay, bishop of Lyon, said he was "dismayed by the perversity of this priest who abused the innocence of so many children, and deeply upset by the suffering of his victims."
"Some victims have told us that the public exhibition of these works is unbearable for them. Therefore, the three dioceses concerned have decided to withdraw from churches the works which belong to us," Germay said.
The bishop explained that the purge of Ribes' artwork had already begun "in the village of Pomeys, where Fr. Ribes went on vacation," but "when it comes to church stained glass windows belonging to municipalities, it is up to the mayors to make a decision."
In May 2022, the Lyon diocese confirmed that letters have been sent to the eight mayors regarding the stained glass windows in the diocesan churches, adding, "The municipalities being the owners of the churches, it is up to them to make a decision."
The diocese said it had removed Ribes' paintings and stored them in diocesan premises not accessible to the public. The diocese concluded that paintings are "clearly identified as being the work of a pedo-criminal person, which must not be exposed, out of respect for those who have been abused."
Emmanuel Gobilliard, auxiliary bishop of Lyon, maintained that "these works will never again be exhibited, but kept, so that the memory of these pedo-criminal actions within the Church is kept."
A book published in September 2020 about thirty artist priests, including Ribes, was also withdrawn from sale in September 2021.
French media outlets are comparing the action taken against Ribes to the Vatican's refusal to act against world-renowned Jesuit artist Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, who has been accused of abusing at least 20 religious sisters in Slovenia and Italy.
Despite the explosive revelations in the Italian media since Dec. 1, the Vatican has featured a painting by Rupnik on the cover of its latest stamp volume, which was released on Dec. 22, 2022.
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