LYON, France (ChurchMilitant.com) - A French cardinal is resigning after a court found him guilty of sex abuse cover-up.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, was found guilty in a French court Thursday of failing to report allegations of clerical sex abuse. The cardinal was given a suspended sentence of six months in prison. The cardinal told journalists he plans to go to Rome "in a few days" to present to Pope Francis his resignation from the archdiocese.
The charge against the 68-year-old cardinal involves a priest of the Lyon archdiocese who had been accused of sex abuse for years. Allegations of sex abuse at the hands of Fr. Bernard Preynat first surfaced in 1991. But Fr. Preynat remained in ministry until 2015. Barbarin became archbishop of Lyon in 2002.
Dozens of alleged victims came forward over the years to accuse Fr. Preynat of sexual abuse. In one case, a former boy scout went public in 2015 with allegations that Fr. Preynat had abused him as a child in the 1980s. Cardinal Barbarin allegedly learned of the allegation in 2014 but sat on it for about a year until the man went public.
Cardinal Barbarin's attorney, Jean-Felix Luciani, said there will be an appeal. She stated, "The court's reasons do not convince me. We will therefore contest this decision."
Yves Sauvayre, an attorney for Fr. Preynat's alleged victims, said of the cardinal's guilty verdict, "The responsibility and guilt of the cardinal have been confirmed by this judgment. It's an extraordinary symbol, a moment of huge emotion."
The cardinal's guilty verdict came as a surprise to many. Five of his codefendants — other officials of the archdiocese of Lyon — had been found innocent.
In September 2018, officials handling the charge against Cdl. Barbarin issued a summons to Cdl. Luis Ladaria, now prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
But Cdl. Ladaria, a Spanish Jesuit, did not answer the French court's summons. Since he was prefect of the CDF, the Vatican invoked sovereign immunity to prevent Cdl. Ladaria from having to go to court in France.
French police say they had found a letter in which Ladaria, who was then a secretary at the CDF, told Cdl. Barbarin to discipline Fr. Preynat without causing "public scandal."
In an interview in 2017, Cdl. Barbarin admitted to French newspaper Le Monde that he mishandled the allegations.
"I realize today that my answer at that time was not commensurate with the stakes," the cardinal said. "Today, we would not act like that, that's what was wrong."
According to a transcript of court proceedings that was cited by NPR, the court ruled that Cdl. Barbarin, despite the power and knowledge available to him as head of the Lyon archdiocese, "made the choice in conscience, to preserve the institution to which he belongs, not to transmit them [the abuse allegations] to justice."
Cardinal Barbarin was not present in the courtroom when the guilty verdict was announced.
News of Cdl. Barbarin's guilty verdict comes shortly after news broke that Cdl. George Pell was found guilty by an Australian court of historic sex abuse. Regarding the Pell case, some Catholics have doubts about the guilty verdict, arguing there is a lack of evidence and some inconsistency in the testimony of the alleged victim.
Barbarin's conviction is the third time in recent memory that a French bishop has been found guilty in a trial related to clerical sex abuse. In September 2001, Bp. Pierre Pican of the diocese of Bayeux was the first Catholic bishop to face prison time in France since the mid-19th century. In November 2018, Bp. André Fort of the diocese of Orléans was convicted for failing to report abuse.