François Devaux is nervous. And happy. But mostly nervous. Or happy? All at once, he confesses. At the end of the day, this man of 39 years who at 11 he was the victim of the sexual abuse of a priest and that today it is one of the main reasons that in France the problem of pedophilia in the Church has ceased to be taboo, is about to reach the goal. Whatever happens during the trial that begins this Monday in Lyon against Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the highest official of the church hierarchy charged with silencing cases of pedophile cures, Devaux feels that he has already won the main battle: that society, and the Church itself, change their attitude towards a very present but silent problem for decades.
"We have already won 200 times, the debate has penetrated all the layers of France. We may lose the last game, the trial, but it's not about winning it, but about the debate created, that is what is going to create the deep reflection and allow us to move forward in the right direction, "says Devaux, president of Parole Liberée (Liberated Word), an association of victims of pedophilia in the French Church considered responsible for the change of attitude in the country regarding this problem.
Judgment to a "system" of silencing
Despite this, he warns, what happens during this trial, which will hold three days of open hearings this week, is important. Because it is not a trial of just one person, Cardinal Barbarin, but of "an entire system", a culture of silence that allowed pedophile priests to be merely transferred to another destination for decades.
"It's about deciding whether sex predators can be put back in contact with children tomorrow, on the pretext that they claim to be chastened by the horror they have committed. Is it normal for us to be put in the path of a sexual predator when we already knew what he was doing? Does society want to allow children to be in contact with a sexual predator? Are we willing to take that risk under the second chance principle? "Asks Devaux.
Although he recognizes that his vision of pedophile cures has changed – to consider it as a "betrayal" of those responsible to the Church itself to now think especially about the victims – the main accused continues to deny having acted incorrectly. "I will go to court to explain exactly what happened," he said in an interview with a religious station in November, adding: "I did what Rome demanded of me. That they show me why my way of acting constitutes a fault ".
In addition to Barbarin, who faces up to five years in jailFive other former leaders of the diocese of Lyon, including the current archbishop of Auch, Maurice Gardès, and the bishop of Nevers, Thierry Brac de la Perrière, are summoned to testify before a judge for failing to report the sexual abuse committed by the priest Bernard Preynat against young scouts of the region until 1991, although they received complaints about it for years.
The Spanish Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, should also have sat on the bench. According to the instruction in the case, Barbarin asked Ladaria in 2015 how to proceed with the Preynat case and asked him to "avoid all public scandal. " But the Vatican wielded its "immunity" to avoid his appearance in Lyon.
A long judicial path
It has not been easy to get to this moment. The scandal erupted in 2015, when Preynat, who will be tried this year in a separate trial, was charged with sexual abuse committed up to 1991 within the scout group of Lyon Saint-Luc. His accusers, several of whom ended up creating Parole Liberée at the end of 2015, also denounced Cardinal Barbarin, Bishop of Lyon since 2002 and therefore responsible for Preynat, for failing to report the priest to the court despite being informed in 2014 of the accusations against him.
After six months of police investigation, which included an interrogation for ten hours to Barbarin, the Lyon prosecutor's office closed the case in the summer of 2016. But Devaux and nine other victims of the abuses of priest Preynat launched a "direct summons" process, which in France allows the victim or the prosecutor, under certain conditions, to go directly to the court without requiring a prior police investigation. After several delays, the process now begins before the Lyon court of correction.
Although Barbarin states that his "only judge is the Lord," he must submit to the earthly justice of a country that no longer seems willing to look the other way, as demonstrated by the recent eight-month prison sentence (exempt from compliance) despite his advanced age of the ex-bishop of Orleans, the octogenarian André Fort, for silencing the denunciations against another pederast priest.
That of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is the third trial of an ecclesiastical official in France for silencing cases of pedophilia among priests who were under his responsibility. The first was in 2001. The second concluded last November, only a month and a half before the Lyon case. It is not by chance that two of the three cases tried in almost two decades have occurred so successively. It is another example of the substantial change that has taken place throughout French society in recent years regarding pedophilia in the Church. "Today in France the image of the victim has changed, says François Devaux.
The Church "has also been reformed. There are still things to be done, but at last he has moved, he has questioned many things, he has finally received the victims, "he said in reference to the Episcopal Conference in November, when the bishops received victims of pedophilia for the first time. . They also approved the creation of an independent commission that should "shed light on the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church since 1950." At the head of the commission, which has a maximum of two years to present its conclusions, has been appointed a man who also generates a broad consensus: Jean-Marc Sauvé, honorary vice president of the State Council, the supreme advisory body of the French State.
In addition, in the summer, the Criminal Code was modified so that it is recognized that the crime of non-denunciation is not a punctual act but "continuous" and therefore reprehensible while not going to court. And despite having rejected the creation of a specific commission on the Church, the Senate approved in November a "mission of information on pedophilia" that, although it analyzes cases beyond those of religious, has as its main mission to study "the omerta in the bosom of the Church, "declared Socialist Senator Jean-Pierre Sueur.