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This priest and psychotherapist will be heard on Wednesday, February 6 in the Senate as part of the Fact-Finding Mission on Sexual Offences Committed Against Minors.
As a good heir to the White Fathers, these missionaries of Africa who have been engaged in fracture zones since the 19th century, Stéphane Joulain has been exploring a real terra incognita for fifteen years. At 52, he is one of the few priests and psychotherapists in the world specializing in the treatment of sexual assaults on minors. “We cannot proclaim Jesus who goes to the poor and the most vulnerable without welcoming the victims”, professes this man of imposing stature.
A “vocation” arrived by surprise
Not that he became a missionary to treat pedophiles. This “vocation” was a surprise to himself. Barely ordained, he was sent to Jerusalem. The White Fathers have custody of the Sainte-Anne church, a “cathartic” place where many visitors ask to meet a priest. “When I was called for confession, they were always victims or abusers”, he says. The very young confessor asked his confreres if this often happened to them. The answer was negative. The Jesuit who accompanied him then encouraged him to “listen to what was being said through these events”.
His superiors are also “strangely receptive”. “They asked me to train. It was only later that I understood why.” Shortly afterwards, revelations of abuses committed by priests around the world would confirm to him the need to seriously consider the issue…
To be formed to “be rooted in one’s spirituality”
To be trained is first and foremost for him, “to be rooted in his spirituality”. For six months, he learned the basics of spiritual accompaniment at Le Châtelard in Lyon. Then studied psychotherapy at the Buttes-Chaumont centre in Paris, conducting a parallel psychoanalysis. To embark in 2011 on a PhD in victimology in Ottawa on the treatment of sex offenders. During these years, he accompanied nearly 200 of them… Before being called back to Rome where his congregation entrusted him with a rather unique and tailor-made position as “coordinator for the integrity of the ministry”.
In concrete terms, Father Joulain is responsible for advising his superiors and other communities on cases of sexual abuse, and for training future missionaries, particularly in prevention. This leads him to travel to Africa. “There is as much abuse on this continent as in the United States”, he says. But the victims are mostly 14-15 year old girls and the priests are all-powerful.” Having become an unavoidable person on the subject (1), this researcher hears, in fact, “unsavory gems“, and hardly bothers with any convolutions to name the sexual organs.
A non-standard ministry
How does he manage to last in this extraordinary ministry? “Learning empathy towards yourself allows you to have empathy for others,” he says. In addition to the supervisor who follows his professional practice, this warm-hearted man meets his spiritual advisor every month. It is undoubtedly partly to this work on oneself that he owes his freedom of speech and his ability to open himself up to the trials he has been through.
From a non-practicing family, he himself was touched by a neighbour at the age of 10. “I was scared to death of my life. But there were no more consequences because I was able to put words in right away. My father reacted quickly and we never saw the neighbour again. “
“Later, I will be a priest to heal Jesus”
At a very young age, Stéphane Joulain also nurtured an empathy in which his vocation is partly rooted. “When I was 5 years old, my mother took me to the village church”, says this Breton, the eldest of three boys. Before the Sulpician Christ, I began to cry: “Why do people hurt him? Later, I will be a priest to heal Jesus.”
As a student of the Christian Brothers’ Schools – “men who loved children in a chaste way” – he thought of vocation. After training as an accountant, he took over the family business of verandas in Loire-Atlantique and then, against the advice of his father, with whom relations were complicated, he entered the seminary at the age of 21, first as a diocesan priest, and finally as a White Father.
Faithful to his congregation, Father Joulain did not hesitate to call upon the Church, and the bishops in particular, who were still too timid in his eyes in the fight against sexual abuse. In the Senate, on Wednesday, February 6, he will have to explain “the reasons for the difficulties in taking into account the victims’ voices” and to discuss his recommendations.
Ongoing hearings in the Senate
In addition to Father Joulain, the Senate Fact-Finding Mission on Sexual Offences Against Minors will hear from Isabelle de Gaulmyn, Editor-in-Chief of La Croix, Catherine Bonnet, former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Véronique Margron, President of the Conference of Religious (Corref), and Father Pierre Vignon, of the Diocese of Valence on Wednesday 6 February. On Thursday 7, the presidents of the national commission in charge of advising the bishops on these subjects (Alain Christnacht) and the independent commission of inquiry on sexual abuse in the Church (Jean-Marc Sauvé), and the co-founders of La Parole libérée, will be heard.
(1) He is the author of Combattre l’abus sexuel des enfants, DDB, 300 p., 19 €.