France’s biggest church abuse trial starts
Cardinal accused of failing to protect children from alleged abuse in ’ 70s, ’ 80s
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.
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.