France’s big­gest church abuse trial starts

Car­di­nal ac­cused of fail­ing to pro­tect chil­dren from al­leged abuse in ’ 70s, ’ 80s

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LYON, FRANCE— A Catholic car­di­nal and five other peo­ple went on trial Mon­day ac­cused of cov­er­ing up for a pe­dophile priest who abused Boy Scouts — France’s most im­por­tant church sex abuse case to date.

The case poses a new chal­lenge to the Vat­i­can, amid grow­ing de­mands in over­whelm­ingly Catholic France for a reck­on­ing with decades of sex­ual abuse by the clergy.

Car­di­nal Philippe Bar­barin, 68, ap­peared in a Lyon court Mon­day along with other se­nior church of­fi­cials ac­cused of fail­ing to pro­tect chil­dren from al­leged abuse by the Rev. Bernard Prey­nat. The top Vat­i­can of­fi­cial in charge of sex abuse cases, Car­di­nal Luis Ladaria, is among the ac­cused — but won’t ap­pear in court be­cause the Vat­i­can in­voked his di­plo­matic im­mu­nity.

Nine peo­ple who said the priest abused them in the 1970s and 1980s brought the case to court, and hope it marks a turn­ing point in ef­forts to hold the French church hi­er­ar­chy ac­count­able for hush­ing up abuse. The vic­tims say top clergy were aware of Prey­nat’s ac­tions for years, but al­lowed him to be in con­tact with chil­dren un­til his 2015 re­tire- ment.

De­spite na­tion­wide at­ten­tion on the case, it may fall apart for le­gal rea­sons. Pros­e­cu­tors ini­tially threw out it out for in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence. Bar­barin’s lawyer says his client never ob­structed jus­tice be­cause the statute of lim­i­ta­tions had passed on the acts in ques­tion by the time Bar­barin was in­formed.

“Ac­cus­ing an in­no­cent man doesn’t ad­vance a cause,” lawyer Jean-felix Lu­ciani said.

Af­ter the judge had read out the lengthy ac­cu­sa­tions, Bar­barin took the stand to main­tain his in­no­cence. He said he had en­cour­aged one of the al­leged vic­tims to get in con­tact with other vic­tims and “thanks to that” ev­i­dence against Prey­nat was able to be built.

If found guilty of fail­ing to re­port the priest’s ac­tions, the de­fen­dants could face up to three years in pri­son and a 45,000- euro ($ 51,300) fine. Bar­barin and some other de­fen­dants are also charged with fail­ing to as­sist a per­son in peril.

The case is a new test for Pope Francis, whose blind spot on clergy sex abuse has threat­ened his legacy and thrown the Catholic hi­er­ar­chy into a cred­i­bil­ity cri­sis.

GETTY IM­AGES

Lyon arch­bishop, Car­di­nal Philippe Bar­barin ap­peared in court along with other se­nior church of­fi­cials ac­cused of fail­ing to pro­tect chil­dren from al­leged abuse by the Rev. Bernard Prey­nat.

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