Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, appears today before the Correctional Court of the French city to be judged for hiding the abuses committed more than 25 years ago by a pedophile priest whom he maintained in charge of a parish in his diocese.
Barbarin, 68, sits on the bench in the hearing that began shortly after 9.30 local (8.30 GMT) in a process that are also prosecuted by five other church officials and will run until next Wednesday.
The six defendants are accused of not having reported the sexual attacks committed between the years 1970 and 1990 of Bernard Preynat on children over whom he had authority, despite the fact that they were supposedly aware of the facts a few years ago. The religious acknowledged sexual assaults in September 2014.
The Vatican rejected last September the appearance before the court of the Spanish Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, alleging diplomatic immunity. The victims considered their testimony "crucial", since Barbarin asked him in 2015 about what to do in the pedophilia complaints.
The ten former "scouts" who initiated the lawsuit reproach the Church for its silence.
The first demands were formalized in May 2015 and led to an association, "La parole libérée" (the liberated word), which served as a platform to mediate the case.
It also helped to deepen the investigation into Preynat's sexual abuse of children under his care in colonies, and establish a list of more than 70 alleged victims. In most cases, for which Preynat has not yet been tried, the facts were already prescribed.
Until August 2015, Preynat maintained the post of priest of the parish of Saint-Foy-lès-Lyon. Once charged and imprisoned he claimed that his hierarchical superiors in the Church were aware of their sexual inclinations for children, which spilled on Barbarin, who is in charge of the Diocese of Lyon since 2002.
The cardinal was interrogated in the framework of that instruction. In statements to the press he himself implied that he had been warned of the behavior of the priest for some time.
In any case, until November 2014, Barbarin did not formally meet with a victim, and immediately afterwards sent an email to inform the Vatican of what he knew, which in January 2015 told him that he had to remove Preynat from his parish. The archbishop did not do it until August of that same year.
The procedure opened against the church hierarchy for silencing child abuse was shelved in August 2016 because the Lyon Prosecutor's Office considered that they had prescribed and that there was no conclusive evidence of an infringement.
However, "La parole libérée" did not resign, managed to reopen the case and, after several judicial vicissitudes and postponements, forced the six defendants to now have to answer for crimes for which they could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros.
In a message read yesterday by his "number two" in the diocese of Lyon, Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard, Barbarin appealed to God to "carry out the work of justice" and to "cure everything he has to be cured in the hearts of victims of acts of pedophilia that are as unjust as they are terrible. "
In France, two bishops were already sentenced to prison terms exempt from compliance for having concealed the pedophile behaviors of priests who were in charge: the first in 2001 to three months and the second in November 2018 to eight months.