January 29, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Many French traditional Catholics know and love the “Children’s Village” of Riaumont, where boys with social problems have been welcomed with open arms by the Institute of the Holy Cross since 1960 and often found their way back into society, not without having learned a trade.
But that may all come to an end in secularist France.
Last week, during a police raid, four brothers of the religious community were marched off and kept for 48 hours of interrogation in police custody. They were returned to their community near Lens in the north of France, but will have to face trial for “minor violence” – a dozen minor incidents ranging more than 10 years up to 2014.
Mass is celebrated here in the traditional form. The boys, under the guidance of seven religious, are building a large chapel with their own hands, on the large wooded terrain studded with statues and sanctuaries, school buildings, dormitories and workshops.
Father Jean-Paul Argouarc’h, a former military paratrooper and superior of the Institut de la Sainte Croix de Riaumont from 1986 until 2000, was at last Sunday’s March for Life in Paris. He told LifeSite about the “persecution” the charitable work of his institution is facing. It might even be obliged to shut down.
LifeSiteNews: Father Argouarc’h, several religious of your community of the Holy Cross of Riaumont have been charged with minor assault – an event that has received major publicity from the mainstream press. What exactly happened?
Father Argouarc'h: To be precise, it’s a question of education. It so happens that a few boys might have been pushed away or slapped, but these are extremely rare occurrences in Riaumont. Over 300 boys were auditioned: only 11 complained. There is not a single medical certificate. So there is absolutely nothing serious. As for us, we are convinced that this is an ideological attack: they want to close a school that is run by religious – brothers who defend values. For example, we join the March for Life: we defend life! The French State is at present trying to close many independent schools.
What's really amazing is that we were inspected by four official Academy inspectors, who congratulated us on our school. We were also inspected, not very long ago, by the municipality, by the departmental authorities, by the firefighters and by the police who were all delighted with everything they saw concerning hygiene and security. So it's only the judges of Béthune who for a very long time have been waiting for an opportunity to close the school.
LSN: They want to close the school that caters to difficult boys …
Father: Yes, extremely difficult. Riaumont is a school of last resort. There are many boys who come from broken families, who have behavioral problems and who very often identified by social workers who know us and send them to us. There are also other parents who decided to send their son to the “Children’s Village” of Riaumont because for them, we represent an ideal. You must understand that the educational methods of Riaumont rest on scouting pedagogy. There’s the Scout Law, of course, but also the “Promise,” principles and above all scouting, Vigils, great Outdoor Games, and the way we give them responsibility, the way these young people learn to appreciate their own value. This is what interests and excites many of these children who've been expelled from six and sometimes even seven schools. It all has immense meaning for them. Riaumont is still in a way a beacon in the sphere of re-education, but this beacon is not approved by all and that is why we are facing increasingly violent opposition.
LSN: Very recently, the American Psychology Association stated that “masculinity is toxic.” Are the education methods of Riaumont particularly “virile?”
Father: I don't think so. Scouting brings that type of formation with it, but that the same time, there's also a feminine presence in Riaumont, so we have both. And when it's true we have boarders – there are about 20 of them – we also have a very large scouting group of 500 boys who also come to the village. Being open to the world like that is excellent, because great friendships blossom among these adolescents.
LSN: So Riaumont is not the enclosed space the press makes it out to be?
Father: Not at all. Personally, I support the Racing Club de Lens football club. They presented us with jerseys, football boots … I invited the Variété Club of old members of the French football team: they came to play for Riaumont. I've welcomed Iraqi refugees – four families, no less. Riaumont is very open to the outside world, and many people visit. Many families from outside come to Mass there every week. The boys also makes … with a large scouting group that meets in the Village. We participate in a number of activities in town, the boys go to the municipal swimming pool, and so on.
LSN: Did cases of sexual abuse of children that recently came to light in the Church give a certain color to the case of Riaumont, even though it is very clear that not a single charge has been brought on that account? Do you think the judiciary has used that context in order to hit harder?
Father: They looked for that sort of thing when they interrogated the children. As far as we know they found no sexual abuse at Riaumont. They are still auditioning the children, by the way: the persecution just goes on and on. Our former students are furious. Next June, they will be organizing a gigantic meeting of Old Boys who want to show us their support.
LSN: How did the police custody go?
Father: It went very badly. The four brothers were put in cells with drug leaders, drug addicts, mostly drop-outs: it was a whole network. They didn't get a minute’s sleep. The living conditions were appalling. Our Prior was handcuffed, the police cars went from the police station of Lille to the courthouse in Bethune (40 kilometers distant) with their sirens wailing all the way. They were cold … Conditions were terrible during 48 hours: our legal counsel intends to make an appeal.
LSN: The accused incur very light sentences: they have only been charged with minor violence.
Father: Yes. In any case, we intend to defend ourselves, because as things are there is no reason to condemn these religious. Don’t forget that they gave their own lives to help children in peril.
LSN: In conclusion, I would like to return to what you said at the beginning: that independent schools are in the crosshairs of the state. Isn't it time for independent schools to join forces in the face of the situation?
Father: Yes, and even more so because, as far as we know, there are about 50 new independent schools being created each year. Networks of friendship are beginning to exist among these schools. To be sure we should be organizing a bit more so as to have a representative delegation that could speak in the name of all the schools.