French car­di­nal to quit af­ter be­ing con­victed of cov­er­ing up sex abuse

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Aurelien Bree­den NEW YORK TIMES

PARIS – A Catholic car­di­nal of­fered his res­ig­na­tion on Thurs­day af­ter be­ing found guilty by a French court of cov­er­ing up decades-old sex­ual abuse by a priest in his dio­cese, a sur­prise vic­tory for the priest’s ac­cusers, who had forced the case to trial af­ter it was dropped by pros­e­cu­tors.

The con­vic­tion of Car­di­nal Philippe Bar­barin, the arch­bishop of Lyon, was the first in France against such a high­pro­file cler­gy­man, adding to a long list of sex­ual abuse scan­dals in the Catholic Church just weeks af­ter a land­mark meet­ing at the Vat­i­can ended with­out a con­crete plan to tackle the is­sue.

Bar­barin, 68, was found guilty of fail­ing to re­port child abuse by the Rev. Bernard Prey­nat to the au­thor­i­ties from 2014 to 2015, af­ter par­ish­ioners ac­cused the priest of sex­u­ally abus­ing dozens of Boy Scouts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The court handed down a six-month sus­pended pri­son sen­tence to Bar­barin who had faced up to three years in pri­son and a fine of 45,000 eu­ros, nearly $51,000. His lawyers said they would ap­peal.

The car­di­nal said later on Thurs­day that he would meet with Pope Fran­cis in the com­ing days to sub­mit his res­ig­na­tion.

“I want to re­peat my com­pas­sion for the vic­tims,” he said at a news con­fer­ence in Lyon, where the trial was held.

The Vat­i­can did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Fran­cois De­vaux, one of Prey­nat’s ac­cusers, told re­porters that the ver­dict was sig­nif­i­cant. “I think that this sends a very strong sig­nal that no one is above the law,” he said.

“It is a great vic­tory for the pro­tec­tion of chil­dren,” De­vaux added.

The car­di­nal had al­ways de­nied that there had been a cover-up, ar­gu­ing that the vic­tims were adults when he learned of the abuse and that it was not his place to go to the au­thor­i­ties on their be­half.

At the trial, which in­cluded emo­tional tes­ti­mony from Prey­nat’s ac­cusers, the car­di­nal said he had even en­cour­aged one of them to get in touch with other vic­tims and stressed that he had fol­lowed the Vat­i­can’s in­struc­tions in deal­ing with the case.

One church of­fi­cial, Car­di­nal Luis Ladaria Fer­rer, who had told Bar­barin to dis­ci­pline the priest and to keep him away from chil­dren “while avoid­ing any pub­lic scan­dal,” was cited in the case, but the Vat­i­can re­fused to let him tes­tify.

Pros­e­cu­tors dropped the charges in 2016 af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but nine of Prey­nat’s ac­cusers used a spe­cial pro­ce­dure to force the car­di­nal and five other French church of­fi­cials and em­ploy­ees of the dio­cese to stand trial.

The five other de­fen­dants, who were fac­ing the same charges as Bar­barin, were found not guilty by the court.

Prey­nat was a Boy Scout leader in the Lyon re­gion from 1972 to 1991. He ad­mit­ted to some sex­ual abuse in let­ters to the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims and was charged in 2016 af­ter a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He could stand trial this year.

The ac­cusers said that Bar­barin had been slow to take ac­tion af­ter he learned about the abuse by Prey­nat, who was re­moved from of­fice only in Au­gust 2015, years af­ter the first al­le­ga­tions against him sur­faced and months af­ter the car­di­nal was ap­proached by one of the priest’s ac­cusers.

Vic­tims also ar­gued that the car­di­nal had a le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity to warn the French au­thor­i­ties even though the abuse had oc­curred decades ago, on his pre­de­ces­sors’ watch.

Yves Sau­vayre, a lawyer for one of the plain­tiffs, said that the rul­ing was a “turn­ing point in the fight of these peo­ple who re­mained silent for years.”

“Vic­tims will no longer be afraid,” Sau­vayre told re­porters. It would no longer be the case, Sau­vayre said, that “be­cause there are im­por­tant peo­ple, pow­er­ful peo­ple, they won’t be held ac­count­able.”

Last year, the bish­ops’ con­fer­ence of France cre­ated an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion to shed light on sex­ual abuse in the French clergy, and a re­port is ex­pected in 2021.

Bar­barin, one of the best­known Catholic fig­ures in France, was ap­pointed to his post in the Lyon Dio­cese in 2002. He is an out­spo­ken and me­dia-savvy con­ser­va­tive who has pub­licly de­nounced the le­gal­iza­tion of same-sex mar­riage and is heav­ily in­volved in in­ter­re­li­gious di­a­logue.

In Thurs­day’s rul­ing, the court said that the car­di­nal had shown “in­er­tia” in fail­ing to re­port the abuse, de­spite be­ing aware that sev­eral vic­tims had not yet come for­ward.

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