A Swiss bishop is floundering under allegations he covered up the sexual abuse of a cathedral priest.
Accusations of sexual harassment, a “homoerotic atmosphere” and impropriety with the auxiliary bishop
Late December last year, an African-born priest of the Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg diocese, Father Nicodème Mekongo, accused Father Paul Frochaux, now parish priest of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Fribourg, of sexual harassment.
Swiss Bishop Charles Morerod, at the head of the Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg diocese since 2011, maintains that he only became aware of Mekongo’s accusations against Frochaux in a 14-page letter Mekongo sent to Morerod in October 2019, as La Croix reports.
In his letter to the bishop, Mekongo alleges Frochaux “sexually harassed him between 2008 and 2011” and subjected him to a “homoerotic atmosphere” while Mekongo was living as a seminarian in the rectory Frochaux maintained while working as parish priest of Vevey.
Mekongo also accuses Frochaux of having engaged in sexual relations with Alain de Raemy, currently auxiliary bishop of the Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg diocese, and with other male visitors to the Vevey rectory.
According to Church anti-abuse protocols, Bishop Morerod forwarded Mekongo’s letter outlining the alleged abuse to police a month after receiving it, in November 2019, and also opened a canonical investigation against Frochaux.
But another man, 39 years old, has also come forward to accuse Frochaux of abusing “his intimacy and trust” when he was 17 years old, this time not in the Vevey rectory but at the holiday cottage Frochaux maintains elsewhere in Switzerland.
In a similar manner to the Mekongo case, Bishop Morerod initiated another Church inquiry into the 39-year-old man’s new allegations against priest Frochaux, and also suspended Frochaux from the active ministry “during the investigation and until the facts are established”.
Newspaper: bishop knew about allegations in 2011
It is this second case against Frochaux – that of him having abused the 17-year-old minor – that is really beginning to hurt Swiss Bishop Morerod.
That’s because Swiss-German daily Tages-Anzeiger reported that the prelate had know about the now-39-year-old man’s accusations since 2011, and yet had refused to act.
When Frochaux’s alleged second victim’s accusations came to public light, Morerod “vigorously denied that he covered up any abuse or protected the perpetrators”.
Again February 9, Bishop Morerod insisted that he “vigorously contests having concealed facts”.
“To appoint a parish priest with knowledge of such facts would not only be wrong, but also stupid”, the bishop said in a statement.
But on top of the two investigations of Frochaux for sexual abuse and harassment, Morerod has now opened a third internal Church investigation.
This time the inquiry will focus on the non-disclosure of information and the disappearance of documents related to the Frochaux cases within the Lausanne-Geneva-Fribourg diocese, according to a Church press release.
Tages-Anzeiger’s reported that as early as 2011 the diocese opened a file on Frochaux that then disappeared.
But in response to the newspaper’s accusations, Morerod told La Croix February 10 that “I received confirmation that there was a file, but I don’t know what was in it… Why didn’t the people who knew tell me?”
With the three canonical investigations now in train, and “preferring justice to haste and taking into account the fact that other witnesses may speak”, Morerod has now decided as per his February 9 statement that he “will no longer make any comments on the subject until the results of the investigations are available”.
Auxiliary bishop implicated may have lost chances of promotion
Not only is the Frochaux case hurting Bishop Morerod, but it is also hurting auxiliary bishop de Raemy, in the sense that Mekongo’s allegations that de Raemy was sexually active with Frochaux could have cost de Raemy a promotion to a see of his own.
Before the Frochaux scandal broke, de Raemy was widely tipped as a successor to Bishop Vitus Huonder in the diocese of Chur, a see that’s been vacant since Huonder’s age-related resignation in May and an appointment that is thought to be being held up because of the suspicions surrounding de Raemy.
In December last year, when news came out about Frochaux’s alleged improprities, Swiss Bishop Morerod insisted on his auxiliary’s innocence.
In an interview December 28, Morerod expressed his confidence in de Raemy and hinted that Mekongo’s allegations could come down to an attempt at “blackmail”.
However, Morerod continued, “I am obliged to take seriously what I am told”.