A court in Lyon sentenced on Thursday to six months in prison with exemption from the sentence Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, whom he considered guilty of having silenced the case of a pedophile priest who worked in his diocese. He is the highest religious in the French ecclesiastical hierarchy who has had to answer to justice for not reporting sexual abuse of minors by priests in his charge. Barbarin is also the third religious in France who has to answer to justice for hiding pedophile priests, a problem that The Vatican has just addressed a summit against the abuses in Rome that disappointed the victims.
The president of the correctional court that held the trial in early January, Brigitte Vernay, declared him "guilty for not reporting ill-treatment" against a minor between 2014 and 2015.
The cardinal did not go to the courthouse to hear the sentence. However, his lawyers announced to the media present his intention to appeal the sentence. This is exhaustive. The court considers that "although his functions gave him access to all the information and that he had the capacity to analyze and communicate them in a useful way, Philippe Barbarin consciously took the decision not to transmit them to the courts to preserve the institution to which he belongs ", Highlights the local newspaper Le Progrès. "The motivation of the court does not convince me, so we are going to appeal this decision through all avenues of law," said Barbarin's lawyer Jean-Felix Luciani, according to Agence France Presse.
The sentence may seem minor, especially if one considers that the crime of not reporting abuses of minors provides for sentences of up to three years in prison. The last high Catholic responsible condemned for the same, the ex-bishop of Orleans André Fort, was sentenced in November to eight months in prison, also with exemption from punishment, although at 83 years of age is much older than Barbarin, 68 years.
But in the case of the Lyon trial, it's a lot. The accusation was only a particular action because the prosecution had refused to press charges, considering that the facts had prescribed, as it considered when it closed the first investigation on this matter, in 2016. Not even the accusers, victims of the sexual assaults of the priest Bernard Preynat – who has recognized the charges and who is awaiting trial – between the late 1970s and early 90s in a group scout religious of Lyon, the court was expected to issue a conviction.
François Devaux, president of the Liberated Word Association, created by the victims of Preynat and considered the main responsible for breaking the wall of silence maintained by the French Church around pedophilia for decades, had declared to this newspaper during the hearings in January that only to get to have seated Cardinal Barbarin on the bench were satisfied, because this way he had managed to open the debate in French society and in the Church itself, which announced in November the creation of an independent commission that will investigate cases of pedophilia in the Church since 1950. The sentence, which has surprised France, is considered an unexpected victory. Devaux called it before the press as "a great victory for the protection of children."
The judges who condemned Barbarin decided at the same time to absolve the other five accused, all former senior officials of the Diocese of Lyon in the middle of this decade, when the scandal broke out after one of the victims of Preynat came to Barbarin after to know that the priest was still in contact with minors despite the fact that the Church had assured him in 1991 that he would remove him from his duties.