On a stage in northeastern France , a lone actor, Laurent Martinez, told the story of how, as a child in a Catholic school near Lyon, he had been raped by a priest.
The performance was all the more extraordinary and heart-rending because it was true: the actor was the real-life victim who wrote the play.
"My child's body was stolen," he told the mainly Catholic audience in a dark theatre hired by the Church. "I'm 51 but my soul is eight years old."
What made the staging of his autobiographical play Pardon? more unusual still was that the archbishop of Reims Cathedral and Head of the Bishops Conference of France, Monseigneur Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, was sitting in the front row.
While the Catholic Church has for years buried its head in the sand about allegations of rampant sexual abuse of minors, Mr Moulins-Beaufort has chosen to take the bull by the horns and stage a series of talks and performances confronting the scandal in a bid to “purify” the Church.
The gatherings were organised ahead of the release on Tuesday of a 'bombshell' report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), which for two and a half years has gathered thousands of testimonies of abuse in the Church since 1950.
The report is an effort by the French Catholic Church's authorities to grapple with a series of scandals involving clergymen, a reckoning in which it lags behind the US, which was forced by the reporting of the 'Boston Globe' to confront decades of abuse in 2002.
On Sunday it was revealed that the report finds at least 3,000 paedophiles operated in the church since the 1950s, with the total number of victims possibly as high as 100,000.
In 'Pardon?', Mr Martinez recounts how the priest led him to his bedroom, took down his trousers and performed oral sex on him, aged eight. "I don't understand what's happening, I'm afraid," he said. On his way out the priest gave him sweets and a traumatic psychological scar he called a “present for life”.
After the curtain fell, Mr Moulins-Beaufort took to the stage too to publicly ask forgiveness, "for the harm this priest caused you and the inability of the Church to detect it."
It was not the only searing moment produced by this series of events, a mixture of confrontation and catharsis.
At one debate in Reims’ Maison Diocésaine Saint-Sixte, surrounded by cloisters, one man stood up to offer his own account of suffering. "I was raped in my childhood by a priest in Reims. I shut the experience out. To speak about it, you need to be heard. I found no-one to do that. That's how I lost my faith."
Another 64-year-old said he only told his children about the abuse he endured in June.
Mr Martinez said he only recently sought to track down the priest and didn't know whether he was still alive. The Church said they had “mislaid” the archives that would help identify him.
The archbishop told the Telegraph the spur to put on the events and performances came from feeling his colleagues had been slow to react to the press stories of sexual abuse in the Church.
"Everything changes when you meet people who have been directly affected. Without that one doesn't realise the extent of the trauma," he said.
It took Mr Martinez two failed marriages and jacking in a job as a sales and marketing director of a top hotel in London to finally face his demons.
"When it happened, my parents alerted the diocese, the priest was relocated and it was never mentioned again. I was made to believe it was all over, but of course, it wasn't," he said.
The report released on Tuesday will reportedly contain 45 recommendations. Half of the cases it finds took place between 1950 and 1969. In most cases, prosecution is unlikely because the abuse occurred beyond French statutes of limitations, and it remains unclear what actions the church itself will take against offenders.
All the same, Olivier Savignac, of the victims’ association Parler et Revivre, said: "It will have the effect of a bomb."
"I personally see this report as a gift from God, shining a light on the truth," Mr Moulins-Beaufort told the Telegraph.
"If we were carrying all this evil then we need to know about it to get rid of it and to purify ourselves," he said. "It's a bitter but necessary pill."
"The most important thing is that victims know that if they speak out, they will be heard."
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