France: Card. Barbarin sentenced to six months suspended sentence
By Vatican News
The Lyon court handed Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, a six-month suspended prison sentence for not reporting the cases in the period between July 2014 and June 2015.
The 68-year old cardinal was not present in the Lyon court on Thursday to hear his conviction. His lawyer, Jean-Felix Luciani, said he will appeal: “The court’s reasons do not convince me. We will therefore contest this decision,” the lawyer said, adding that the court had been under pressure as a result of documentaries and a film about the case.
At the end of the trial in January the prosecutor had not sought punishment for the cardinal or the five other church officials accused alongside him.
Barbarin to hand resignation to Pope Francis
In a short speech to the press at the Bishop’s House in Lyon, Card. Barbarin announced he would be going to Rome in the coming days to hand in his resignation to Pope Francis.
Shortly afterwards, the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF) released a statement saying it would not comment on the conviction until the cardinal has exhausted his right to appeal. The CEF said it would neither comment on the cardinal’s decision to resign, saying it is a matter of personal conscience and that it will be up to the Pope to do what he thinks appropriate.
The voices of the victims
Nine people who said the priest abused them brought the case against Card. Barbarin to court.
The group of alleged victims of Father Bernard Preynat, a priest from the diocese, claim the Archbishop of Lyon, and other church officials covered up for him for years. The statute of limitations had expired on some charges. Five other defendants were acquitted.
François Devaux, co-founder of the victims’ association “La Parole libérée”, hailed the verdict as “a great victory for child protection”.
Father Bernard Preynat’s victims accused the cardinal and his entourage of not having brought the religious to justice and of having delayed the decision to suspend him from his pastoral duties. A scout chaplain in the 1970s and 1980s in the suburbs of Lyon, Fr. Preynat allegedly abused more than 70 young scouts belonging to a group that was not affiliated with the official scout movements. The scale of the scandal has shaken the diocese of Lyon and the Church in France.
The victims say top Church officials had been aware of Preynat's actions since 1991, but allowed him to be in contact with children until his 2015 retirement.
Fr. Preynat has acknowledged abusing Boy Scouts in the 1970s and '80s and will be tried separately.
Preynat's trial is scheduled to be held next year but 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.
Card. Barbarin removed priest in 2015
“I never sought to hide, even less to cover up these horrible acts,” Cardinal Barbarin said in a statement read during his trial in January last. On 31 August 2015, the cardinal had removed Father Preynat from his duties, in agreement with the Holy See. “I did exactly what Rome asked me to do”, he said, while admitting that he was "imprudent" when in 2011 he appointed Father Preynat as head of a prefecture near Roanne. "I should have told him - he continued - to remain in the shadows".
The third bishop to be sentenced in France
Cardinal Barbarin is the third French bishop to be condemned in a trial concerning sexual abuse. In 2001, Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux was handed a three months suspended sentence. More recently, on 22 November 2018, Bishop André Fort, former bishop of Orléans, was sentenced to eight months on parole.