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French court convicts cardinal of not reporting child abuse

In this Jan. 7, 2019, file photo, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin listens to his lawyers, Jean-Felix Luciani, second right, and Andre Soulier, back to camera, as Barbarin attends the start his trial in Lyon, central France. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, File)

LYON, France (AP) — French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin said Thursday (March 7) he will offer his resignation to Pope Francis after a court found the cardinal guilty of failing to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors by a priest.

The Lyon court’s surprise decision was seen by alleged victims as a victory for child protection and a strong signal to the Catholic Church.

The court handed Barbarin a six-month suspended prison sentence for not reporting the cases in the period between July 2014 and June 2015.


RELATED: Pope Francis calls for ‘all-out battle’ against child sex abuse


In a brief statement to the media, Barbarin said: “I have decided to go and see the Holy Father to offer him my resignation.” He said he will meet Pope Francis “in a few days” and expressed his “compassion” for the alleged victims.

Alleged victims of the Rev. Bernard Preynat claim Barbarin and other church officials covered up for him for years, but the statute of limitations had expired on some charges and even the victims had expected that the cardinal would be acquitted.

Five other defendants were acquitted.

In the court’s decision, read by The Associated Press, magistrates wrote that Barbarin “had the obligation to report” accusations because the alleged victims didn’t request the ecclesiastic secrecy.

Alexandre Hezez, one of the alleged victims and among those who brought the case to trial, met Barbarin in November 2014 and kept informing him that there were probably other victims.

“Cardinal Barbarin never showed any doubt about the information,” the court wrote.

Barbarin was not present at the Lyon court Thursday. His lawyer, Jean-Felix Luciani, said he will appeal.

“This is a decision that is not fair at the juridical level,” Luciani said. He added: “We hope that at the next step, justice will be done.”

The Vatican didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Preynat has confessed to abusing Boy Scouts in the 1970s and ’80s and will be tried separately.

Nine people who said the priest abused them brought the case against Barbarin to court.

“This is a victory that sends a strong signal to lots of victims and a signal to the church as well,” said Francois Devaux, president of the association La Parole Liberee (Lift the Burden of Silence), a group of victims of Preynat.

“We see that no one is above the law. We have been heard by the court. This is the end of a long path.”

A lawyer for some of Preynat’s alleged victims, Yves Sauvayre, called the verdict “historic.”

“The cardinal is convicted because he didn’t do what needed to be done,” he said.

The victims say top clergy had been aware of Preynat’s actions since 1991, but allowed him to be in contact with children until his 2015 retirement.

In addition to Barbarin, an archbishop, a bishop, a priest and two other officials had been on trial. Another top Catholic official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, was among the accused — but didn’t appear in court because the Vatican invoked his diplomatic immunity.

In emotional proceedings during the four-day trial in January, several men recounted their fear and shame after they were abused.

Christian Burdet, 53, recalled how Preynat forced him to go into his tent when he was a 10-year-old Scout.

Describing years of suffering, Burdet said he wanted to “understand how this system was put in place” and help other victims to speak out.

Preynat’s trial is to be held by next year. The date has not been set yet. Only 13 cases out of an estimated total of 85 alleged victims will go to court, as the statute of limitations has expired for the others.

Last month, French judges refused to block the release in French cinemas of a movie based on the scandal by French director Francois Ozon.

The decision against Barbarin was handed down less than two weeks after the announcement in Australia of the conviction of another “prince” of the church, Cardinal George Pell, on charges of sexually abusing two youths. He too is appealing.

And it comes amid a reckoning among rank-and-file Catholics of how church leaders around the globe allowed decades of sexual abuse and cover-up to fester. The resulting crisis in confidence in the hierarchy sparked Francis’ decision to convene church leaders from around the world for an extraordinary Vatican summit last month.

Also last month, Francis defrocked the onetime leader of the American Catholic Church, ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, after a church investigation determined he sexually molested minors and adult men.

(Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.)

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Nicolas Vaux-Montagny

14 Comments

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  • The fact that Francis protected Ladaria shows what hypocrites Francis and the hierarchs are when they talk about transparency and accountability.

  • So, we have a man in a position of power and influence failing to take the minimal steps to protect the powerless and vulnerable.

    Why was the sentence suspended?

  • Because it was rather clear that it won’t survive an appeal in the French court system.

  • I think, but do not know, that the issue of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin’s guilt or innocence is entangled in the issue of statutes of limitations on pursuing sex abuse cases in France. I wonder what was different about what and when Barbarin knew of the abusers crimes and what and when the other five who were acquitted knew. Why only Barbarin?

    Regardless, Bishop Barbarin admits he didn’t report anything to police. I assume mixed up with all his regrets about how he handled the case of Preynat (and maybe others?) is that he did not report it, even if it was past the statute of limitations. Or, maybe he regrets he did not conduct a more thorough investigation to discover that quite a few more kids had been abused one number is 80 victims), and/or he regrets not helping the victims more and creating an environment where those abused felt they could come to the Church and speak about what had happened to them.

    I will say, though, but these late regrets felt by those who did little to nothing when they were informed of the problem – is getting tiresome. By 2014 and 2015 there had been a decade or two of press about sex abuse by priests, lots of brouhaha raised – I am tired of bishops not knowing what to do, fumbling around, leaving the abused with no sense they have been heard and that the Church is taking any action, with sex unnamed and unpunished and unwatched..

    Okay, maybe the Vatican summit last month can make some difference. But, bishops, be careful if you ask the Vatican what to do. It appears that Barbarin did ask for help and Cardinal Ladaria of the CDF sent a letter “advising him to take disciplinary action against Preynat, ‘while avoiding public scandal’.”

    I hope Pope Francis accepts his resignation if the technicality of a civil statute of limitations is all that Barbarin pins his innocence on. And, Pope Francis, have a word with Ladaria. The only thing you get with “avoiding public scandal” in a sex abuse case involving a priest is – guess what – public scandal. And, at this point, you and the entire hierarchy of the Church deserve to be the scandal.

  • Cardinal Philippe Barabarin was the subject of a private criminal prosecution – citation directe possible only for misdemeanors – something which does not currently exist in American law.

    The French legal authorities had found insufficient evidence to file charges.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_prosecution#France

    An appeal court may retry both facts and law on appeal, and this case will certainly be appealed.

  • What it demonstrated was that Francis was not going to throw Ladaria under the bus of a private prosecution after the French authorities found no what we call in this country “probable cause”.

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