French cardinal bewildered by sex abuse conviction

French cardinal Philippe Barbarin says he does not understand why he was found guilty of covering up a priest’s sexual abuse of children.

In March this year the Lyon court ruled that Barbarin, “in wanting to avoid scandal caused by the facts of multiple sexual abuses committed by a priest … preferred to take the risk of preventing the discovery of many victims of sexual abuse by the justice system, and to prohibit the expression of their pain.”

Barbarin, who is the archbishop of Lyon, was given a six-month suspended sentence for “non-denunciation of sexual violence against minors.”

He then offered his resignation to Pope Francis, but Francis refused to accept his resignation until the appeals process is completed.

Barbarin told the appeals court hearing last Thursday that he filed his appeal because he “cannot see clearly what [he is] guilty of.”

First of all, he told the court that when he arrived as Archbishop in 2002, he considered that his predecessors had done whatever was necessary.

Barbarin admitted he knew of the rumours and said that no one disputed them.

“Everyone knew, nobody moved. Why am I expected to file a complaint 20 years later, when parishioners and parents had not done so at the time?” he told the Lyon court.

The outcome of the hearing of the appeal will help determine his future within the Catholic Church.

The case against Barbarin

The charges against Barbarin stem from complaints about French priest Bernard Preynat, who has admitted to abusing numerous Boy Scouts from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Barbarin is one of several church officials who were accused of covering up for Preynat over many years.

However, some of the accusations were outside the French statute of limitations. Of all those named, only Barbarin was convicted.

Barbarin’s lawyer told the appeals court there is no legal basis for the court’s decision to convict his client in March.

The case hinges on a discussion he had in 2014 with Alexandre Hezez, who was one of Preynat’s 85 victims.

Hezez says he told Barbarin about Preynat’s sexual violence during scout camps in the 1980’s. He also says he told Barbarin he thought Preynat should no longer lead a parish.

At last Thursday’s abuse hearing, Hezez told the court “I was certain that an investigation would begin. I was naive.”

In response, Barbarin told the appeal hearing that after the discussion he followed Vatican instructions about what to do in such situations. He could not have done more than that, he explained.

He moved Preynat to another parish. Preynat then continued to work with children for another year until he retired.

The case against Preynat

Preynat will be tried in Lyon this coming January on charges of sexual assault of minors.

Although the civil case is still pending, Preynat has already been tried by France’s Catholic Church.

In July this year, the Church found him guilty of sexually abusing numerous Boy Scouts. He was subsequently defrocked.

France’s bishops voted this month for financial compensation to sexual abuse victims.


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