BREAKING NEWS
This content is not available in your region

French cardinal to offer resignation again to Pope Francis despite acquittal over sex abuse cover-up

Comments
FILE: French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, center, arrives at the Lyon courtroom for his appeal trial Thursday, Nov.28, 2019 in Lyon, central France.
FILE: French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, center, arrives at the Lyon courtroom for his appeal trial Thursday, Nov.28, 2019 in Lyon, central France.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani   -   Laurent Cipriani
Text size Aa Aa

A cardinal in France says he will again offer his resignation to Pope Francis - despite being acquitted over a sex abuse cover-up.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, was convicted last March and given a six-month suspended sentence for failing to report an abusive priest to police.

Pope Francis refused Barbarin's first offer to quit, saying he wanted to wait until the appeals process is complete.

Barbarin was acquitted on appeal on Thursday.

"Once again, I will hand over my office as Archbishop of Lyon to Pope Francis," the Cardinal told reporters on Thursday, adding that his acquittal would "open a new chapter for the Church of Lyon".

The 69-year-old said at his appeal trial in November that he was challenging the ruling because ''I cannot see clearly what I am guilty of".

''This decision is logical,'' one of Barbarin's lawyer's, Felix Luciani, said after the verdict on Thursday. He said the cardinal had faced down ''public rumour and calumny.''

READ MORE: Barbarin appeals conviction in Catholic Church sex abuse case

The appeal court of Lyon did not motivate the verdict, which comes at a time of increasing scrutiny around the world of the Catholic Church's role in hiding abuse by its clergy.

The court had initially ruled that Barbarin, "in wanting to avoid scandal caused by the facts of multiple sexual abuses committed by a priest ... preferred to take the risk of preventing the discovery of many victims of sexual abuse by the justice system, and to prohibit the expression of their pain".

But the legal battle is not over just yet for Barbarin. Just a few hours after the verdict was announced, the plaintiffs said they were challenging the ruling before France’s Court of Cassation.

"The appeal was filed," lawyer Jean Boudot told AFP, calling it an "obvious" decision.

"The interpretation made by the court of appeal seems to be completely questionable in law," he said.

Preynat verdict looms

Bernard Preynat, the now-defrocked priest at the centre of the scandal, described to a court at his trial earlier this month how he systematically abused boys over two decades as a French scout chaplain.

Preynat said his superiors knew about his ''abnormal'' behaviour as far back as the 1970s.

''Had the church sidelined me earlier, I would have stopped earlier,'' Preynat said.

Preynat, now 74, faces up to 10 years in prison in what is France's biggest clergy sex abuse trial to date. He's suspected of abusing around 75 boys, but his testimony suggests the overall number could be even higher. That verdict is expected in March.

The case against Barbarin hinges on a 2014 discussion with victim Alexandre Hezez, who told the cardinal about the sexual abuse he had suffered in the 1980s by Preynat during scout camps. Hezez felt the priest should no longer lead a parish.

Barbarin told the appeal hearing that he followed Vatican instructions after that discussion with Hezez. He suggested he could not have done more.

Reactions

Following the verdict, many took to Twitter to express their disappointment.

"It's a dark day for the victims of #Pedocriminality and for the fight against silence in the church" tweeted @MiKohiyama, the president of an association of victims of sexual violence.

"Were crimes committed? Yes, Preynat acknowledged it. Did Barbarin know? Yes, Preynat confessed to him. Is not reporting a crime an offence? Yes. Were the facts prescribed? No. Has Barbarin been sentenced? No. Shameful," wrote Nicolas Gavrilenko, of the Union of Secular Families.

But others praised the verdict, often arguing that public opinion had unfairly condemned Barbarin.

"It's only justice! The 1st ruling was just to calm the pack! A pure scandal!," said Twitter user JR Michael.