It is perhaps the image that best represents what is at stake in the trial initiated yesterday against Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, for hiding abuses against minors of a priest under his command, Bernard Preynat. The most influential religious in France, friend of several popes, arrived yesterday without making statements to the correctional court and sat with his eyes at all times fixed either to the front or to the ground -in the more than six hours of hearing he did not turn around. only once towards the victims who accuse him of silence, nor did he have a single gesture towards them despite being inches away – without breaking his silence except when he was called to answer the questions of the judges and lawyers. He did not flinch when, just a couple of steps back, another of the hundreds of victims raped by a priest condemned by pedophilia told anyone who wanted to hear the martyrdom suffered when he was raped at age 13. In his turn, the cardinal denied, however, convincingly to have sought to hide this type of "terrible facts".
"I never tried to hide, let alone cover up those terrible facts!" Said the 68-year-old cardinal. "An error of appreciation, of reaction, can. But cover up, pretend I did not know what I knew, never, never, never (…) I do not see what I'm guilty of, "he insisted during the almost three hours he answered questions, also repeatedly affirming that he only followed" the instructions of Rome. "
That is, however, the main recrimination that weighs against him and against other senior members of the Catholic Church both in France and in other countries: the secrecy and the will that the pedophile scandals did not leave the Vatican walls, even at the cost of the suffering of the thousands of children abused for decades by priests, as the Church has begun to recognize.
That is the final goal of the nine men (one withdrew from the lawsuit) who have seated on the bench Barbarin and five other senior officials in charge of the Diocese of Lyon, including a bishop and an archbishop. "We want him to acknowledge that he did not act soon enough, that if he had acted before, we would not be here," one of the victims, Pierre-Emmanuel Germain-Thil, told reporters.
Barbarin was appointed bishop of Lyon in September 2002. Among the parish priests of his diocese was Preynat, who in 1991 had been forced to acknowledge to his superiors that he had committed abuses against minors when he was responsible for a local group of scouts in the eighties.
Despite this, Barbarin's predecessors did not denounce him and decided to keep him in positions where he had contact with minors, relying on his word that he would not continue to commit acts of pedophilia. Something Barbarin also did: in 2013 he was appointed dean of several parishes, although yesterday he recognized that since he arrived in Lyon he had heard "rumors" that led him to address him directly in 2010 on the matter.
The priest, the cardinal was justified, assured him that he had not committed any abuse again. "It did not seem to you that there is never any guarantee when a pedophile assures that he will not commit those acts again?", Questioned the president of the court, Brigitte Vernay.
"I pushed it away from any function"
"The surprising thing is the lack of total responsibility in an institution" such as the Catholic Church, said Alexandre Hezez, whose complaint sparked the case in 2015. "We seek a responsibility of natural persons, who are important links in the chain of silence," he explained. .
In 2014, Alexandre Hezez learned that Preynat was still working with families and children. He is one of the young people who suffered abuse from the priest in the group scout what was he wearing? Quickly, he contacted several people in charge of the Diocese of Lyon until finally he reached Barbarin. At the end of that year, he urged him to explain by letter what he had suffered and sent that "explicit" letter to the Vatican asking for instructions. Rome replied in January 2015 urging him to remove Preynat from his charges but "avoiding any public scandal."
"I went further, because Rome told me I could give him responsibilities as long as it was not with children and I did not give him any responsibility, I turned him away from any function. I went further than what I was asked, "Barbarin defended himself before the court, which however also questioned the long time it took – several months – until Preynat, who will face a trial this year, was finally removed from its functions.
For Hezez, Barbarin, although he did not respond yesterday to all the questions he would have wanted, he was "brave" and "quite sincere in acknowledging errors". "I think that at last you will be able to see how you could impose that silence" that has lasted decades, he confided. "It's a good start".
Of "vile crime" and "one of the plagues of our time". So Pope Francis described yesterday the sexual abuse of minors in a speech before the diplomatic corps accredited in the Vatican, which also criticized the violence suffered by women. "I can not keep silent about one of the plagues of our time, which unfortunately has also involved several members of the clergy. Abuse of minors is one of the worst and vilest crimes possible. Destroy the best that human life reserves for an innocent, causing irreparable damage for the rest of its existence, "he said.
Next February, the Pope has called a meeting with episcopates from around the world to address the problem. With it, he said yesterday, he intends to take "one more step in the way of the Church to shed light on the facts and alleviate the injuries caused."