French Cardinal is Acquitted of Sex Abuse Coverup as Country Faces Its Own History of Pedophilia

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin speaks during a press conference in Lyon, central France, after a French appeals court acquitted him of covering up the sexual abuse of minors in his flock, Thursday, Jan.30, 2020. (AP Photo/Laurent Cirpriani)

The French appeals court has acquitted Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon of charges that he failed to report sexual abuse cases.

In 2017, Barbarin was charged and later convicted for not reporting the abuse of a minor, which resulted in a six-month prison sentence. His was the most high-profile case of a member of the Catholic hierarchy to be tried and sentenced for sexual abuse coverup.

The prosecutors accused Barbarin of not reporting the notorious pedophile Bernard Preynat, who was convicted in July for sexually abusing up to 45 young Boy Scouts under his care in the diocese of Lyon. The Catholic Church removed him from the clerical state, meaning Preynat is no longer a priest.

On Thursday (Jan. 30), an appeals court acquitted Barbarin.

Lyon is an important diocese in France, overseeing more than 1.2 million Catholics, and traditionally a stepping stone for becoming a cardinal and occupying other prestigious positions.

The victims who accused Barbarin of covering up abuse plan to appeal the matter to France’s highest court, the Court de Cassation. Victims may also present the case before the European Court of Human Rights. In either case, a final decision over Barbarin’s guilt or innocence may not be made for several years.

At the time of his conviction, the 69-year-old Barbarin presented his resignation to Pope Francis even though the cardinal hadn’t reached the retirement age of 75. Francis refused the resignation due to the “presumption of innocence,” but in June he appointed Bishop Emeritus Michel Dubost of Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes to oversee the diocese while Barbarin maintained the title of Archbishop of Lyon.

Despite being acquitted, Barbarin said he presented his resignation once more to the pope, who has the last word in these cases.

“For the Church in Lyon, it’s time to open a new chapter,” the cardinal told French reporters after his court hearing. “Once again I will present my resignation as archbishop of Lyon in the hands of Pope Francis.”

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni stated on Thursday that the Vatican and the French bishops “reaffirm their closeness to all the victims of abuse, in their suffering, and to their families and communities.”

“The Holy Father, who continues to follow closely the unfolding of these painful events, will communicate his decision at the appropriate time,” he said.

In a tweet, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, said that he greeted the news of Barbarin’s acquittal with “emotion.”

“We have long awaited this important day with him. Our friendship never wavered. He has always been a great servant (of God),” he wrote.

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Source: Religion News Service