PARIS — A longtime deputy mayor of Paris resigned on Thursday following protests over his links with Gabriel Matzneff, a French writer who openly promoted pedophilia for decades while benefiting from the protection of French elites.
The deputy mayor, Christophe Girard, 64, who oversees culture for the Paris government, said in a statement that he had no desire to “ruin my life any longer” nor to “justify myself permanently for something that does not exist.”
Mr. Girard’s resignation as deputy mayor — he remains a Paris city councilor — comes against a backdrop of renewed calls against impunity for sexual abuse and sexism in French society.
He had received full support from the city’s newly re-elected mayor, Anne Hidalgo, who has defended her colleague and on Thursday morning told the newspaper Le Parisien that Mr. Girard was “not in any way involved” in the case against Mr. Matzneff, adding that the accusations against the deputy mayor were unsubstantiated.
But in recent weeks, calls for Mr. Girard to step down have grown, from both activists and fellow politicians, including members of his own coalition.
Mr. Matzneff himself has spoken of his ties to the politician. In 1986, Mr. Girard, then a top aide to the designer Yves Saint Laurent, helped arrange payment for a hotel where Mr. Matzneff stayed for two years to convalesce from eye surgery, Mr. Matzneff said when interviewed earlier this year.
But Mr. Matzneff — who at the time had already published a book that offered a defense of pedophilia — used the new accommodation to continue meeting with Vanessa Springora, then a teenager, who in January released a scathing account of being abused by the writer.
The new living arrangement allowed Mr. Matzneff to evade visits from the authorities, Ms. Springora wrote.
Mr. Matzneff later dedicated a book written during that time to Mr. Girard.
Mr. Matzneff is set to stand trial next year, charged with promoting the sexual abuse of children. Prosecutors also launched a rape investigation over abuse of a number of teenage girls, whom he wrote about in his books for years.
Mr. Girard was questioned in March by the police as a witness in the investigation.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Girard condemned the abuses but denied almost any knowledge of the writer’s pedophilia and said that he had never read even a single book by the author, though one was dedicated to him.
He did acknowledged knowing Mr. Matzneff “for a while” and said that “it is possible” that he helped him obtain a lifetime annual stipend from France’s National Book Center in 2002. Mr. Girard was the city’s deputy mayor for culture by that time.
“Yes, it’s a friendly relationship, since it’s someone I have a coffee with, at a bookstore, at a restaurant with other people,” Mr. Girard said. “But it’s not a personal relationship.”
Mr. Girard’s explanations have done little to quieten calls for his removal by several city councilors, many from the Green party, who have demanded his suspension and asked that an internal investigation over his ties to Mr. Matzneff be opened.
“He cannot be deputy for culture to the mayor of Paris with what happened before,” said Alice Coffin, a Green city councilor who was protesting in front of Paris’ city hall on Thursday. “How do you expect him to be credible?”
About forty protesters stood alongside Ms. Coffin, waving signs reading “No deputy for rape culture” and “Denial at Paris city hall,” as Ms. Hidalgo held her first council meeting since her re-election in June.
On Friday, Ms. Coffin welcomed Mr. Girard’s resignation, but condemned impunity among political elites.
“They do not understand that it is not possible to appoint personalities whose behavior contributes to the oppression of women in France,” she said.
Earlier this month, President Emmanuel Macron’s appointment of two ministers, one previously accused of rape and another known for insensitive remarks, drew outrage from French feminist groups.