Laurent Martinez, eighteen, was abused sexually by a priest. He decided to tell his story in a play forty years later. It shows the terrible consequences of sexual abuse and how victims can heal and rebuild.
The play “Pardon?” draws from the life of the French actor and author. It describes how he felt ravaged from the inside and struggles to live a normal life.
Martinez’s play was shown earlier in the year to bishops ahead of the presentation last week of a remarkable report that estimated that 330,000 children were subject to sexual abuse over the past 70-years within France’s Catholic Church.
Martinez, despite the shocking revelations made, said that there was “no — absolutely no — sense or urgency” in the church.
He said that “they are clearly slammed with the numbers”, but that “they are just talking and talking, talking, and talking” in an interview with The Associated Press.
Martinez, now 52 years old, still has vivid memories of the abuse.
He said that the priest, who was teaching catechism classes, found pretexts for Martinez, 8, to be alone and kiss his genitals. Martinez recalls that the abuser invited Martinez to his apartment one day and made him engage in oral sexual sex. This would be considered rape under French law.
Martinez told his parents later, who alerted authorities at the diocese and the priest was removed. Martinez believes that the priest has died. Martinez, like most victims of sex abuse within the church, didn’t seek legal recourse. Because of statutes, it would have been too late.
Martinez kept the abuse hidden for decades and only spoke about it to his wives.
“Sexual relationships were forbidden for me. It was very difficult for me to do it and I had to find very patient friends,” he stated.
The play shows how his abuse affected his sexual and emotional life as an adult. He became aggressive and overreacted to everyday worries, but it also made him very protective of children.
Martinez claimed that he spent 40 years “wearing a mask of somebody else” and “seeking out to hide something which was like cancer within me.”
He felt the need to express his frustration with how he had kept the trauma in him for so many years.
“I thought: I must do something. He said, “It’s impossible to continue as this.”
In 2019, the Avignon arts festival presented the play for the first times. This is when he told his sons, 21 and 11, about the abuse. Martinez’s play has been in theatres throughout France, including Paris. A performance was also shown on France’s Catholic television channel KTO.
“I’ve been suffering for so many years, and now I am an actor so… I’m putting on my pain. He said, “I’m not in the business anymore.”
Martinez, who had lost his faith in the abuser, took a decisive new step over recent weeks. After much hesitation, he asked Eric de Moulins Beaufort, head of the Conference of Bishops of France if he could ask Martinez for forgiveness in the name of the abuser.
Martinez recalls, “He accepted it and it was tremendous emotionally to everybody that night.” “I offered my forgiveness to the priest who raped and raped”
“I felt completely free from the burden of anger and the desire to vengeance. He said that all the negative feelings that I had had have vanished because I had forgiven.
Martinez said, “Little to little the trauma disappears.” “What was more helpful was being able to forgive my priest.
Moulins Beaufort had previously been in touch with the actor and suggested that he show the play to French bishops to help them face shameful secrets long hidden.
This is evidence that the Catholic hierarchy has finally realized that listening to survivors is an essential part of its own process of addressing the problem and helping people heal.
Pope Francis realized this during a summit in 2019 he hosted with all the world’s bishops conferences. It featured heartbreaking testimony from victims of abuse and the long-lasting trauma it caused. Many bishops found it to be the first time that they had ever listened to someone who was a survivor. Too often, the church treated victims as enemies or ignored them.
Last week’s report on church abuse in France included recommendations that would allow the church hierarchy to more effectively help victims and provide institutional support. According to the report, between 2,900 and 3,200 male clergy were involved in child sexual abuse in France. It also accuses the church for a systematic coverup.
Martinez is aware that Martinez’s play helps other people who have suffered similar experiences and hopes it encourages them all to seek help.
Some people “come to me and say: “Thank you so much. Because, you know. This is also mine story.” “And you are the one I tell that story to.”
Martinez stated that “it is the most difficult thing to say it once.” Then, you can find the strength to repeat it over and over again. Then you’re free or at the very least on the right path to freedom.