It is a blow for the whole of France. The court of Lyon sentenced Cardinal Phillipe Barbarin, 68 years old, to a six-month suspended sentence for having failed to report allegations of sexual abuse on minors committed by father Bernard Preynat during the 1970s and 1980s. The other 5 members of the diocese who were being tried for the same offence have been acquitted.
The Cardinal was not present in court during delivery of the sentence. The Archbishop chose to appear before the press summoned to the diocesan house in Avenue Adolphe Max. He gave a 37 second declaration facing cameras from all over the country.
“Regardless of my own personal fate, I acknowledge the decision of the court. I would like to reaffirm first of all my compassion for the victims and the place that they and their families have in my prayers”, he said.
“I have decided to go to the Holy Father to hand him my resignation. He will see me in the coming days”.
Déclaration du cardinal Philippe Barbarin – 7 mars 2019 à Lyon. pic.twitter.com/5KurmXPuzC
— Diocèse de Lyon (@diocesedelyon) March 7, 2019
The Cardinal of Lyon’s court case began in 2016 with the coming to light of the case of Bernard Preynat, a priest in the Lyon diocese who was accused of having abused of dozens of youngsters belonging to a boy-scout group in the 1970s and 1980s. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin became involved in the accusations when he confided in a interview with “La Croix” that he had been informed of the essential facts since 2007. In 2016 the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Lyon began investigating the Cardinal for “failing to report” sexual abuse. At the time, the prosecutor had taken the view that the Archbishop had not “willingly obstructed the course of justice”. The “La Parole Libérée” group, which represents the victims of the priest, began a new court case in 2017, this time by means of a direct citation. Besides Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, a further six people were taken to court, among them Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Conregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Archbishop Jean-Felix Luciani’s lawyer remains sceptical of the six-month sentence handed down to the Cardinal and has decided to file for appeal. In particular, he challenges the climate of media pressure in which all the judicial proceedings took place. A case so overwhelming as to have prompted French director François Ozon to produce a film, “Grâce à Dieu”, which was presented at the last Berlin Film Festival. “It was difficult for the court to resist all the pressure what with the documentaries and a film,” the lawyer pointed out today.
“All this poses serious questions about the respect for justice”.
The sentence places a heavy strain on the Episcopate and the Church of France. The Bishops Conference released a statement acknowledging the court’s decision but declining to comment on it, while adding that “like any French citizen, Cardinal Barbarin has a right to use the available avenues of appeal. This he has done and we await the outcome of these new proceedings”. Regarding instead the Cardinal’s decision to present his resignation to Pope Francis, the bishops state that this choice concerns “his own personal conscience”, and so the Bishops Conference cannot comment on it. “It is up to the Pope to follow it up as he deems appropriate”.
The bishops conclude by reaffirming their “commitment to resolutely fight against all sexual assaults committed by the clergy on minors”.
For his part, Msgr. Georges Pontier, Archbishop of Marseilles and President of the French Bishops’ Conference, “has had the opportunity to assure to Cardinal Barbarin his prayer for him and for the Diocese of Lyon”.