He receives, with grave expression, firm words interspersed with deep silences, within the ancestral abbey of Notre-Dame d'Ourscamp, established in the Oise since the 12th century. Mgr Jacques Benoit-Gonnin, the bishop of Beauvais, Senlis and Noyon, took the full brunt of the revelations about the pedophile past of Father Matassoli, killed on November 4, 2019 after having raged for decades in the department .
"It is regrettable that certain things were not taken at their fair value," laments the bishop. His diocese and his predecessors were alerted in 1984 by the investigator of the judicial police in charge of the first complaint, filed by Jacques, a victim of the parish priest. The Oise Church then did not react. The first step in a long series of failures and dysfunctions, the pedophile priest was finally sanctioned by his hierarchy only in 2015, thirty-one years later.
During the 1984 complaint, the diocese underwent a period of transition. Archbishop Jacques Jullien leaves office in May. His successor, Mgr Adolphe-Marie Hardy, arrived in 1985. Both have since died. "I don't know why it didn't go further," says the current bishop. Prescription of the facts was often used. This is no longer an admissible argument today. The Church can no longer use it. "
Jacques' family continues their fight. In 1986, during the funeral of a loved one, his sisters warn the dean of Froissy, the superior of Father Matassoli. They refuse to allow the abuser to attend the funeral ceremony. "The church was then necessarily aware," claim Colette and Odile, the sisters of Jacques, who died in 1989.
In 1999, another victim's letter arrives at the diocese
In 1999, in a letter addressed to the diocese, Jean-Paul L. accused Father Matassoli of a sexual assault committed when he was 9 years old during a scout camp organized in Plainval in 1962, in Oise. "In a few days, we will be able to respond in detail to this letter and to the serious facts that you report," replied Vicar General Georges de Broglie.
Indeed, the answer fell two weeks later: "I inquired about the facts that you revealed to me. Unfortunately, as was to be feared, it was not possible to obtain confirmation of it in view of the time which had elapsed. In any case, on behalf of the Catholic Church, I can only express sincere regret if one of its members has caused you harm. "
The former vicar general, now 75 years old and chaplain of the penitentiary center of Liancourt (Oise), returns to this letter exchange. At the time, he went to meet Father Matassoli in person. “I was surprised, he had the reputation of being appreciated in his parish. He looked completely devastated by this accusation. I asked him not to be talked about anymore, ”rewinds Georges de Broglie.
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The septuagenarian is inhabited by the feeling of having accomplished his duty with the information at his disposal. “I only had this letter in hand. There is no secret network or plot behind it. When such a case happened, I called the Beauvais prosecutor. She answered me not to investigate and to let the justice act. But there, the facts were prescribed. After the fact and from afar, it's easy to say that we should have done otherwise. "
After this stroke of the sword in the water, Jean-Paul L. did not disarm and returned to the charge at the end of the year 2000. This time, it was the bishop of the time, Mgr Guy Thomazeau , who picks up the pen… essentially giving him news from Father Matassoli: “It is now a man who has grown old, from whom a kidney was removed last year. The retired teacher, now 67, remembers being shocked by this response.
"I told him that his act was unacceptable, unthinkable and that he should never do it again"
Contacted, Mgr Guy Thomazeau, now Archbishop Emeritus of Montpellier, did not respond to our requests. To our colleagues at La Croix , he explains: “I met Father Matassoli and I broached this subject frankly with him. He did not deny the facts. I told him strongly that his act was unacceptable, unthinkable and that he should never do it again. At the time, there was no procedure, no protocol, and no listening cell. I was really sure that I had fulfilled my mission fully. "
Mgr Guy Thomazeau claims to have informed his successor, Mgr Jean-Paul James, of the situation. "Ten years after my departure from the Oise, I have no memory of remarks which would have been made to me on this priest, maintains the one who has just been appointed archbishop of Bordeaux. During my six years of presence in this department, I did not receive any victim from Father Matassoli, nor any letter concerning him. "
In 2002, a new letter arrived at the diocese, via the Saint-Esprit school group in Beauvais. It is signed by Daniel, one of Jacques' brothers, one of whose children studies in the establishment. “I did not want my son to follow catechism with Father Matassoli. I clearly explained why, ”he says.
This missive, which could then have been added to those recent by Jean-Paul L. and increased the pressure on the pedophile priest, has been lost. She arrived, as during the first complaint in 1984, during a change of bishop at the head of the diocese, during the few months of beating between the departure of Archbishop Guy Thomazeau and the taking up of office of Archbishop Jean-Paul James.
This letter will not be found until 2018, during the canonical investigation targeting the abbot. “The archives were dispersed. An administrator had been appointed at the time to ensure the transition. He was not necessarily aware of this matter. And it is true that nothing happened, ”recognizes Mgr Jacques Benoit-Gonnin.
"I do not deny the facts but no longer have the full memory of it," writes the priest to one of his victims
It was not until the arrival of the current bishop in 2010 that Jean-Paul L.'s sister revived the diocese. The head of the Oise Church sends his contact details, his mobile number, and offers to meet the victim. The interview will only take place at the beginning of 2015. "He certainly needed time," analyzes Bishop Jacques Benoit-Gonnin, who in the following urges Father Matassoli to write to Jean-Paul L.
The priest does so. "I come to tell you my dismay at the facts that you blame me for. I do not deny them but no longer have the full memory of them […] I have never had bad attitudes with other boys […] Forgive me Jean-Paul, pray for me anyway, I would like to leave in peace ”, writes, on a small white cardboard, the abbot. "He was close to me, it put me off. He is not a loved one! 58 years later, it's still hard for me to talk about it, ”said the former teacher indignantly.
Mgr Jacques Benoit-Gonnin finally met the parish priest at the end of 2015, at his home in Agnetz, where he was killed with a crucifix buried in his throat. He then deprives him of any public prosecution. Father Matassoli can continue to officiate, but only in private. In a letter to the bishop in 2016, Jean-Paul L. expresses his dismay at such a "slight" sanction.
Things finally accelerated in 2018. A victim of Father Matassoli, who kept his anonymity, complained about touching committed between 1976 and 1980. Alerted to this procedure, the bishop transmitted the information to Jean- Paul L. who in turn decides to take legal action. Faced with these two complaints, Mgr Jacques Benoit-Gonnin completely deprived the parish priest of any ministry and warned the Vatican.
A canonical investigation is opened. Five victims are heard. Mgr Jacques Benoit-Gonnin was preparing to send his final decree of the investigation to Rome when Father Matassoli was killed. The priest risked the "dismissal of the clerical state", the most serious measure that the Church could take vis-à-vis one of its ministers of worship. Father Bernard Preynat, who was recently tried for sexual assault in the Lyon region, was, for example, dismissed in July 2019.
"We thought we had put it back on the right track"
Father Matassoli's death closed the canonical investigation, as did the complaints against him in court. Two other victims, including Stéphane (the first name has been changed) , the father of Alexandre, the presumed murderer of the parish priest, came forward after the murder to the diocese. “Let all the victims come forward. I will continue to meet them. We want to shed light entirely. We want to be a safe house, ”proclaims Mgr Jacques Benoit-Gonnin, who set up a reception and listening unit for victims of abuse in the Oise in July 2016.
In the end, Father Matassoli was questioned face-to-face by three senior representatives of the diocese, two bishops and a vicar general. Each time, he lied, denied or procrastinated. “His answers were very ambiguous. He spoke mainly of his failing health. I now realize that it was one of his modes of defense, which he also used with victims ”, analyzes Mgr Jacques Benoit-Gonnin.
"How do you spot a pedophile?" "Wonders Georges de Broglie, the former vicar general. "It is not written on his figure. Was it manipulation? He was clearly a split personality, with a bright side and a dark side. However, we thought we had put it back on the right track. "
1. A priest suffocated with his crucifix
2. A family destroyed over several generations
3. In 1984, the first complaint buried
4. Multiple alerts ignored
5. Half a century of influence (available online January 26)