French cardinal guilty of abuse cover-up

France’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, has been handed a six-month suspended sentence for his role in covering up the sexual abuse of minors.

Cardinal Barbarin was found guilty of not reporting allegations of assaults by a priest in the 1980s and 1990s.

He denied the charges and his lawyers say he will appeal against the verdict.

Cardinal Barbarin’s sentencing comes as the Catholic Church battles a fresh wave of abuse scandals.

During the trial, he told the court:

“I cannot see what I am guilty of. I never tried to hide, let alone cover up these horrible facts.”

Cardinal Barbarin, who hold the position of Archbishop of Lyon, was not in court for the verdict.

The allegations relate to alleged abuse by priest Bernard Preynat, who is now 73. Dozens of men say he abused them as children.

Father Preynat ran a boy scouts group for many years, during which some of the abuse allegedly took place.

Cardinal Barbarin told the trial he had known of “rumours” as far back as 2010.

But he became aware of the abuse after a conversation with one of the victims in 2014. He informed the Vatican about the allegations, and removed Father Preynat from his position a year later – but never informed police.

The allegations became public in 2015 – and are now the subject of a film titled Grace of God, which was cleared for release last month after a legal battle.

Several of Father Preynat’s victims took action against Cardinal Barbarin and five others over their inaction.

They used provisions in French law to bring a private prosecution – circumventing the prosecutor’s office, which had not pursued action because the allegations happened too long ago.

French broadcaster BFMTV described the case as “the first major trial of paedophilia in the French Catholic Church”.

It comes amid a series of other Catholic scandals around the world.

Two weeks ago, Australia’s most senior cleric Cardinal George Pell – someone once widely seen as the Church’s third-most powerful official – was found guilty of abusing children.

An Australian jury found Pell had abused two choir boys in Melbourne’s cathedral in 1996. He is appealing that verdict.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, convened a conference on the sexual abuse of children in the church last month. He called for “concrete measures” to tackle the problem rather than “simple and obvious condemnations”, and labelled abusers “tools of Satan”.

Critics, however, say that little concrete action has been taken by the Church.

First Published 07.02.19: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-47481618

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