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Defrocked French priest Bernard Preynat, 75, who acknowledged sexually abusing at least 75 boys over decades, was sentenced Monday to five years in prison. Preynat testified that multiple cardinals and other senior church officials were aware of his misconduct dating back to the 1960s, but he wasn’t removed from the priesthood until last year. The accusers in this case were aged seven to 14 when the crimes were committed between 1971 and 1991, while Preynat was a scout leader in Lyon.
The scandal also became the subject of an acclaimed film that was released last year by director François Ozon, who collaborated with some of the victims. The film was entitled Grace a Dieu (Thanks be to God).
During the trial before the Criminal Court of Lyon, held from January 14th to 17th, 2020, Bernard Preynat explained that he was himself sexually assaulted by a sacristan in his parish, then by a seminarian and a priest at the minor seminary. He acknowledges the accusations. He estimates the number of victims of one to three children per weekend and "during camps, it could be four or five children in a week" for two decades. A lawyer for a victim specifies: "Over the period, it was between 3,000 and 4,000" assaults. Bernard Preynat says that his officials did not question him on the details of his attacks. He specifies that he has confessed several times. At the end of the trial, the prosecutor asked for 8 years in prison.
“It’s really a relief,” said Pierre Emmanuel Germain-Thill, who testified that Preynat’s abuse upturned his life. “Since he’s someone of a certain age, it seems like a correct verdict to me. The victims want to turn the page.”
Preynat’s superior was Philippe Barbarin who was accused of covering up abuse and it made him the most senior French priest to be caught up in the global clerical child sexual abuse scandal in recent years. As the Guardian reports, Barbarin, a staunch conservative who became the archbishop of Lyon in 2002, was originally given a six-month suspended sentence in March 2019 for not reporting Preynat’s crimes. However, in January, an appeal court overturned the conviction, saying that while Barbarin should have informed the authorities, he was not criminally liable for his lack of action. After all that, Pope Francis accepted Barbarin’s resignation this month.
During the trial, Preynat said that he hadn’t touched any children after 1991 and he blamed the church for allowing him to become a priest and not helping him to get the treatment. He also asked forgiveness from the nine victims who testified against him.