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PARIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - A French bishop and former superior general of the Paris Foreign Missions has asked Pope Francis to relieve him of episcopal duties while he is being investigated for attempted rape.
Bishop Georges Colomb, of the diocese of La Rochelle and Saintes in southwestern France, is accused of attempting in 2013 to sodomize a Catholic adult known only as "Nicolas" while giving him a massage in the priest's apartment at the mission's headquarters in Paris.
The 12th French bishop to be accused of sexual abuse in the past year, Colomb was then superior general of the missionary society when the alleged incident occurred.
The auxiliary bishop of Strasbourg, Gilles Reithinger, is also being accused of initiating a seminarian into a homosexual relationship.
On Monday, the Bishops' Conference of France issued a press statement noting that bishops Colomb and Reithinger had been implicated in media reports of sexual abuse.
"The charges are serious," but both bishops "categorically deny the facts described in the [news] articles," the statement said. "The voice of complainants must be heard; the rights of the defense, respected. It is now up to the investigations to find out the whole truth."
Meanwhile, Colomb has also been accused of placing homosexual priest Fr. Aymeric de Salvert in charge of the society's seminarians and young volunteers, even though Salvert was expelled from Japan in 2011 for having a consensual relationship with another male.
"It wouldn't have been honest to put him back in the parish, and I had just opened a vocational home for young people: I put him in charge of it," Colomb said in his defense. "I didn't want him to lose face in front of his confreres."
Father de Salvert was placed in police custody in April 2022 on suspicion of "aggravated rape" for events dating back to 2015.
In an interview with French media, Colomb's accuser, Nicolas, described in graphic detail how Colomb had attempted to seduce him after inviting him to have coffee in the morning:
Rather than making coffee, a nervous Fr. Colomb leads me to his bathroom to show me bottles of massage oil. He tells me he is a massage expert and that it is very difficult for him to practice his art with his fellow priests. He offers me an invigorating massage. I accept, without really knowing why, and sit down shirtless on a chair.
As the massage begins, Colomb suddenly and violently pulls him off the chair and forces him to lie down on his bed, Nicolas narrates.
While the victim is lying on his stomach on Columb's bed, the priest pulls down his trousers with a jerk, Nicolas recalls. "He plunged his hand between my buttocks. I jumped up and ran away," he adds, "sick with the smell of minty massage oil."
Later, Nicolas went to the metro station and returned to his apartment "scared and shocked," only to find his room "ransacked as after a burglary." He spends a night there "terrified" and, as a precaution, blocks his door with chairs and a broomstick.
"I was clairvoyant: From 5 a.m., Fr. Columb was trying to open my door, shaking the handle every 15 minutes or so," Nicolas says. Hearing nothing more after 10:30 a.m., Nicolas said he slipped away "back on my train, with the trauma that I carry for the image of the Church and for myself."
"I could have imagined him falling in love, even if it would be strange for a priest, and building up a romance. But no, it was direct," Nicolas remarks.
Nicolas reported the assault to the apostolic nuncio in Dec. 2022 and to Bp. Gilles Reithinger, auxiliary bishop of Strasbourg, with whom Nicolas has been friends since high school. Reithinger was vicar general of the Paris Foreign Missions at the time of the assault.
"Nicolas never told me that he had been massaged by Georges Colomb; only that a massage proposal was made to him, which I reported to the apostolic nuncio," Reithinger said.
A priest of the society told French media that he had informed Reithinger of the existence of a "sexual relationship" between Colomb and an adult man. The priest also reported the matter in 2016 to senior church officials, including the apostolic nuncio.
However, Reithinger is himself accused of seducing Fr. Philippe R., a priest and member of the society, into a homosexual relationship.
"Gilles Reithinger is one of my initiators. He is the second person with whom I have had sexual relations, and this continued until recently," wrote Philippe R. in 2022 to layman Timothée B.
In a further twist, Timothée B. says he was raped by Fr. Philippe R. — a charge denied by the priest.
The Paris Foreign Missions have announced that Nicolas' testimony will be investigated as part of an extensive inquiry conducted by the British firm GCPS Consulting into reports of sexual abuse committed within the religious institute.
GCPS Consulting has already led investigations into sexual abuse in the L'Arche Community and the Focolare Movement.
In 2016, Pope Francis appointed Colomb as bishop of La Rochelle and Saintes. Father Gilles Reithinger was elected superior general of the Paris Foreign Missions as his successor.
A year later, Fr. Reithinger appointed Fr. de Salvert as parish priest in the diocese of Angers.
Pope Francis appointed Reithinger as auxiliary bishop to the prestigious diocese of Strasbourg in 2021.
In November, the French bishops' conference revealed that 78-year-old Cdl. Jean-Pierre Ricard admitted to abusing a 14-year-old girl when he was a priest 35 years ago in the diocese of Marseille, Church Militant reported.
The abuse revelations follow a historical analysis of the catastrophic collapse of the French Catholic Church by French historian Guillaume Cuchet, professor of history at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.
According to Cuchet, Sunday Mass attendance in the country known as "the eldest daughter of the Church" plummeted from 25% in the 1950s to less than 2%, including in regions where weekly Sunday Mass attendance had reached 97% in the late 1950s.