French Court Convicts Lyon Archbishop for Failing to Denounce Abusive Priest

The court in Lyon tried the 68-year-old archbishop Barbarin and five former aides at a time when the church has been hit by abuse scandals worldwide

A French court convicted Cardinal Philippe Barbarin Thursday morning of having failed to denounce a sexually abusive priest, handing the prelate a suspended sentence of six months in prison.

In a brief statement to the press, Barbarin said Thursday he will travel to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis and tender his resignation, adding that the pope will receive him in “a few days.”

The 68-year-old Barbarin, who was named archbishop of Lyon in 2002, is the first high-ranking Catholic prelate to be convicted of covering up clerical sex abuse and endangering minors.

The case revolves around Father Bernard Preynat, a French priest who was accused by numerous victims of having carried out dozens of acts of sexual abuse of minors in boy scout camps between 1986 and 1991. The priest has admitted at least some of these crimes to police.

The abuse happened a decade before Cardinal Barbarin became archbishop of Lyon, but the facts were brought to the cardinal’s attention in the late 2000s and he not only failed to act on them, but continued to assign pastoral responsibilities to the priest until 2015 — which included contact with minors.

Cardinal Barbarin’s lawyers said they intend to appeal the court’s decision.

The shift of attention from abusive priests to the prelates who covered up for them has been a hallmark of recent efforts to get the Catholic Church to act more decisively to root out abuse. It has also brought renewed attention to Pope Francis himself, who has been accused of covering up for serial homosexual abuser Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano published an 11-page testimonial in late August 2018 alleging that he had personally informed Pope Francis of McCarrick’s misdeeds in 2013, shortly after Francis’ election, along with sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI, but that the pope had ignored them and instead rehabilitated McCarrick, entrusting him with new responsibilities.

A month later, Viganò — the former papal nuncio to the United States — published a second statement repeating his charge that Pope Francis knew of McCarrick’s abuse and yet made him “one of his principal agents in governing the Church.”

“Neither the pope, nor any of the cardinals in Rome have denied the facts I asserted in my testimony,” Viganò wrote in his 4-page memo last September, adding the Latin legal dictum that silence implies consent.

Shortly after the release of Viganò’s original report, journalists asked Pope Francis whether the allegations were true and Francis refused to confirm or deny them.

He has since dodged any further questions on the issue, leaving the question regarding what he knew when about McCarrick’s abuse in the air.

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