15 August 2023, The Tablet

French churches begin to remove abuser’s artwork

Paintings by Louis Ribes were removed from numerous churches last year after his victims protested to the Lyon archdiocese.

French churches begin to remove abuser’s artwork

The chapel of Saint-Martin de Cornas in Givors, near Lyon. The mayor wrote to Pope Francis to ask what should become of the Ribes windows there.
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French churches around Lyon have begun removing stained-glass windows created by the late Fr Louis Ribes, who was posthumously declared a sexual abuser of minors.  

The two dismantled windows, the first of six planned withdrawals, took place in Dième in the Beaujolais region and further will follow in the autumn as masons become available to do the work.

Paintings by Ribes, who died in 1994 as the reputed “Picasso of churches”, were removed from numerous churches last year after 49 victims protested to the Archdiocese of Lyon.

The victims’ activism came as they saw the extent of his abuse while registering individual complaints following the 2021 Sauvé report. The archdiocese says it has “no doubt about their testimonies”.  

The windows, many in churches owned by the state under France’s policy of laïcité, can only be removed with approval from local officials first and skilled masons to do the job.

Often delays arise because of the lack of specialised workmen. The sixth removal is complicated by the fact the Catholic Church rents the building from the Orthodox Christian community.

Dième initially simply covered over Ribes’s signature RIB on the windows before agreeing with victims that they should be removed. 

The mayor of Givors, a small town outside Lyon, argues that removing the works will not solve the problem of abuse. Mohamed Boudjellaba even wrote to Pope Francis for advice and received an answer.  

He has refused to divulge the contents of the response and the fate of the Ribes windows in Givors is unclear.

While professing a zero tolerance policy on clerical sexual abuse, the Vatican has not always articulated a clear policy toward individual abusers, notably the Jesuit artist Marko Rupnik, whose well-known mosaics adorn many churches.

The Slovene priest was expelled from the Society of Jesus in June for disobeying restrictions placed on him after several “highly credible” allegations of spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse from women that the Vatican initially failed to investigate.

A committee at Lourdes, the world-famous Marian pilgrimage site in southwestern France, is studying whether to remove his mosaics from the façade of the Basilica of the Rosary, the lower of the two churches above the sanctuary. Its report is due by the end of the year.

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