A French magazine article reports on an encrypted diary written by a pedophile priest. The plaintext is not known to me. Can a reader break it?

Every once in a while I search for terms like “encrypted postcard” or “letter in code” on Google, and usually I perform such a search in different languages. Yesterday, I tried “journal crypté”, which is French for “encrypted diary”, and in fact, I found an interesting story.


An encrypted diary

The first hit that came up led to an article titled Journal crypté d’un prêtre pédophile: le procès du silence de l’église published in 2017 in a French online magazine. The title translates to “The encrypted diary of a pedophile priest: the process of church silence”. The article provides the following scan of the diary mentioned in the headline:

As the title implies, this diary (I took it on my encrypted book list, identification number 00095) was written by a French priest who was accused of pedophile offenses. The scan shows a diary passage from the 1990s. This passage is contained in volume 4 of the diary, which fills over 300 pages. I don’t know if there are more volumes.

The priest in question worked in a parish in the diocese of Orléans, France. In 2017, now 63 years old, he was tried for acts of sexual abuse of minors by a person in authority. He was accused of having sexually touched boys under the age of 13 during a summer camp organized by a Christian organization in July 1993 (this means that it took 25 years before the crime was brought on court). According to press reports from November 2018, the priest was later condemned to two years in prison.


Can a reader decipher it?

I wish, I could tell my readers more about the content of this article, but only the first few paragraphs of it are readable, while the rest is hidden behind a paywall. To my regret, it is not possible to pay for a single article – instead it is required to start a subscription.

The plaintext of the diary excerpt isn’t known to me. Perhaps, it is given behind the paywall, but I doubt it. So, I hereby ask my readers for help. Can somebody decipher this cryptogram? The plaintext is probably French. The cipher used is most likely a simple letter substititution (diary authors rarely use more sophisticated encryption methods, otherwise writing in cipher gets too complicated). So, if you succeed in deciphering this ciphertext, please leave a comment.

Considering that the author of the diary abused children at about the same time when the passages shown were written, it is certainly possible that the content is embarrassing. If this should be the case, I will certainly delete the respective passages from the comments after a few days. Anyway, it would be great to have this text deciphered.

Further reading: An unsolved cryptogram left behind by a suspected child killer and cannibal

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Kommentare (10)

  1. #1 Jokep
    21. Januar 2019

    Using the Firefox “Reader View”, it is possible to read two more paragraphs:

    “C’était il y a près de vingt ans. L’abbé a vieilli, ses victimes ont grandi. Ses secrets, longtemps conservés entre les murs de l’évêché d’Orléans, ont fini par être portés à la connaissance de la justice. En ce jour de novembre 2012, le gendarme qui procède à son audition s’intéresse à ses mémoires et le sonde sur les raisons de leur cryptage : « J’ai rédigé un journal certaines années de ma vie, car ça me permettait de faire le point sur ma journée, explique le prêtre. Mais j’ai vu à plusieurs reprises que les journaux intimes étaient convoités, et surtout qu’ils aimaient être lus par d’autres. Un journal ne regarde que celui qui l’écrit. Et ce journal est à moi. (…) Il n’y a aucun alphabet écrit. Nulle part. Il est dans ma tête. »

    « Indescriptible »

    Ce journal qui « aime être lu par d’autres », explique-t-il dans une curieuse inversion de la dynamique du désir, le prêtre l’a forgé à partir de ses connaissances de l’alphabet gothique allemand, du grec ancien, de l’hébreu, de l’anglais « et un petit peu d’espagnol ». L’objet se présente comme « une suite ininterrompue de signes, de telle sorte qu’on ne peut pas distinguer les mots ».”

  2. #2 Richard SantaColoma
    21. Januar 2019

    I count about 40 unique characters, which with any errors on my part may still mean simple substitution. It could be alphabet + numbers + punctuation + separators.

    But I also note a high number of what look like “modified” characters… such as the “C”, which may be plain, or have a dot, or have an “X” in it. So these could be unique, or simply obfuscation.

    Beyond that, I had to stop, as I am not a French speaker. I have trouble with anything not in my native English. But I do think this may be simple substitution, and I’ve no doubt one of your other readers will solve this.

  3. #3 TWO
    21. Januar 2019

    If this in French and being a diary I would start the attack with : aujourd’hui (today)

    Since this is a priest Latin is an option.

  4. #4 Magnus E
    21. Januar 2019

    Are there any double letters at all?

  5. #5 Simon
    22. Januar 2019

    I did a quick google search but could not find more pages of the diary.

    Some articles in french written in 2016 say that the diary was found and confiscated during a search, but never decrypted by the police. Later, victims of the priest got the diary and tried to decrypt it before the end of the trial, hoping to find evidence against the priest and proof that the priest has been protected by the church (doesn’t look like they succeeded).

    In custody, the priest accepted to decode a page of his diary, but there was nothing too personal in it; mostly details about his schedule and people he met.



  6. #6 Klaus Schmeh
    22. Januar 2019

    @Simon: Thanks for letting us know. Apparently, this diary is still a mystery, at least for the public. Too bad, the police doesn’t publish more pages.

  7. #7 Simon
    22. Januar 2019

    According to one of the news articles that i posted above, the persons molested by the priest made this website: http://notreparoleaussiliberee.org
    They also complained they were left alone in decrypting the diary. Looks like they will be glad to get some help in the decryption. Since the trial ended, it’s probably too late, but it’s always good to know the truth. The website has a contact email address, maybe someone should contact them, perhaps they still have a copy of the diary.

  8. #8 Klaus Schmeh
    22. Januar 2019

    @Simon: Great idea, I will contact this organisation and offer my support.

  9. #9 Steve
    24. Januar 2019

    The full article can be read at https://www.docme.ru/doc/1730791/le-monde-22474-2017 (pages 8-9). Although the text is small it can be read by highlighting/copying it.

    A key passage explaining the encryption method is a continuation of Jokep’s paragraphs (comment #1)
    “Le chiffrement de l’ouvrage est constitué dedeux alphabets : un pour le début des mots, un autre pour la fin. Quand la première lettred’un mot lui semble trop prévisible, l’abbé seréserve la possibilité de piocher dans le second alphabet. Précaution supplémentaire : les lettres les plus usuelles, comme le e, peuvent se décliner de différentes façons.”

    …which Google translate converts to:
    The ciphering of the work consists of two alphabets: one for the beginning of the words, another for the end. When the first word of a word seems too predictable to him, the abbot retains the opportunity to dip into the second alphabet. Extra caution: The most common letters, such as the “e”, can be broken down in different ways.

    Later it mentions that the lawyers of the three plaintiffs, Mes Martin Pradel and Edmond Fréty, translated passages of the diary.
    “En se fondant sur lesclés de chiffrement fournies par le prêtre en garde à vue, ils se concentrent sur les datesles plus importantes. Les bribes de la vie [the priest] qu’ils ont exhumées sont d’unebanalité confondante. Aucune trace de ses agissements, pas l’ombre d’un repentir.”

    …which Google translate converts to:
    Based on the encryption keys provided by the priest in custody, they [Mes Martin Pradel and Edmond Fréty] focus on the most important dates. The fragments of the life of [the priest] that they exhumed are of a confusing urbance. No trace of his actions, not the shadow of repentance.

  10. #10 Norbert
    2. Februar 2019