Photo Credits: BBC News
An appellate court overturned the guilty verdict for the French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin who was accused of covering up child sexual abuse. Cardinal Barbarin's lawyer, Jean-Felix Luciani, said the court in Lyon had accepted the evidence of a victim who wrote to the cardinal thanking him for his advice on bringing the sex offender to justice.
About a year ago, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for covering up child sexual abuse by a priest in his diocese. He actually failed to report to the authorities accusations made against the priest Bernard Preynat who was found guilty of sexually molesting no fewer than eighty boys over two decades.
At his trial in January 2019, Barbarin told the court in Lyon he had “never sought to hide, much less cover up, these horrible acts.”
Barbarin was the highest-profile French Catholic cleric to face trial in relation to sexual abuse. While many people thought that Barbarin’s conviction was a major victory for child protection, he filed an appeal following the ruling, saying: "I cannot see clearly what I am guilty of."
Bernard Preynat, 74, admitted repeatedly abusing boys over three decades as a priest and scout master. “At the time I did not realize the seriousness of my actions,” Preynat said. “I knew they were forbidden, condemnable, but I was not thinking of the consequences they could have on my victims. I did it without violence, for me it was gestures of tenderness, in which I obviously found a certain pleasure. But today I measure the consequences of my actions, I regret them, and I ask for forgiveness.”
As the BBC reports, Cardinal Barbarin admitted to knowing of "rumours" about Mr Preynat as far back as 2010 but says he only became aware of the alleged abuse after a conversation with one of the victims in 2014. He later informed the Vatican of the allegations, and removed Mr Preynat from his position - but never informed police. The allegations then became public in 2015.
Jean-Felix Luciani, said: “The court has just acquitted the cardinal on the fundamentals of the case, by indicating that no offence has been committed, for a number of reasons — and for one key reason in particular: that the cardinal never intended to obstruct justice."
"This wrong was today righted...Cardinal Barbarin is innocent," he said.
Despite his acquittal, Cardinal Barbarin intends to resign from his post as archbishop:
“This court decision allows me to turn a page and for the church of Lyon to open a new chapter. I will now go to Rome to renew my request. Once again, I will hand over my office as archbishop of Lyon to Pope Francis.”
The French court showed again that the Catholic Church is strong enough to protect its cleric even if he is already convicted and fails to protect sexual abuse victims.