French actor breaks silence on child sex abuse within church

Author and actor Laurent Martinez gestures as he speaks during an interview with The Associated-Press at “Theo Theater” in Paris, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. French author and actor Laurent Martinez has been sexually abused by a priest. Over forty years later, he has chosen to make his story a theater play to show the devastating consequences and how speaking out can help overcoming the trauma. The play called “Pardon?” is deeply inspired from the Martinez’s own life, describing how he felt devoured from the inside and the difficulties of daily life after being abused. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS (AP) — At the age of eight, Laurent Martinez was sexually abused by a priest. Forty years later, he has chosen to make his story into a play, to show the devastating consequences and how speaking out can help victims heal and rebuild.

The play called “Pardon?” is drawn from the French author and actor’s own life, describing how he felt devoured from the inside by the abuse and struggled with daily life after it.

Martinez’s play was shown to bishops earlier this year, ahead of the presentation of a groundbreaking report last week that estimated that about 330,000 children in France were sexually abused over the past 70 years within France’s Catholic Church.

Despite the shocking revelations, Martinez deplored that “there is no — absolutely no — sense of urgency” within the church.

“They are clearly slammed by the numbers” but “they are just talking, talking, talking,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

For Martinez, now 52, memories of the abuse remain vivid.

The priest who was teaching his catechism classes found pretexts to see the 8-year-old Martinez alone, kissing and touching his genitals, he said. One day, Martinez recalls, the abuser invited him to his apartment and forced the boy to engage in oral sex. Under French law, that would be classified as rape.

Martinez later told his parents, who alerted the diocese, and the priest was moved away. He believes the priest is now dead. Like most victims of sex abuse in the church, particularly before the church abuse scandals of the 2000s, Martinez didn’t seek legal recourse. Now it would be too late because of statutes of limitations.

For decades, Martinez buried the abuse inside him, only speaking about it to his two wives.

“For me, sexual relationships were marked in me as something forbidden. So it’s been very difficult for me to go through it, and I had to find very patient partners,” he said.

The play shows how the abuse affected his emotional and sexual life as an adult, making him sometimes grow aggressive or overreact to everyday worries — but also how it led him to be very protective towards children.

Martinez said he spent 40 years “wearing the mask of someone else” and “seeking to hide something that was like a cancer inside me.”

A few years ago, he felt he needed to speak out because he was fed up with keeping the trauma inside him.

“I thought: I need to do something. It’s not possible to continue like that,” he said.

The play was shown for the first time at the Avignon arts festival in 2019. That is also when he first told his two sons, now 21 and 11, about the abuse. Since then, Martinez’s play has been playing in theaters in Paris and across France and a performance of it was shown on France’s Catholic television network KTO.

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