French Cardinal Found Guilty of Sex Abuse, Offers Resignation After Conviction

March 7, 2019 Updated: March 7, 2019

LYON, France—French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is offering his resignation to the pope after being convicted of failing to report a pedophile priest.

In a brief statement to the media in Lyon, France, Barbarin said, “I have decided to go and see the Holy Father to offer him my resignation.” He said he will meet Pope Francis “in a few days.”

Barbarin spoke of his “compassion” for the alleged victims and said they were in his prayers.

A Lyon court convicted Barbarin on March 7 and gave him a six-month suspended prison sentence.

French cardinal in sex abuse case
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin listens to his lawyers, Jean-Felix Luciani, 2nd right, and Andre Soulier, back to camera, as he attends the start of his trial, in Lyon, central France on Jan. 7, 2019. (Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo, File)

A French court says Cardinal Philippe Barbarin “had the obligation to report” accusations against a pedophile priest because the alleged victims didn’t request secrecy.

In the court’s written decision, read by The Associated Press, Lyon magistrates said that Alexandre Hezez, one of the alleged victims and among those who brought the case to trial, spoke to the cardinal directly about the Rev. Bernard Preynat.

Hezez met Barbarin in November 2014 and kept informing him that there were probably other victims.

“Cardinal Barbarin never showed any doubt about the information,” the court writes.

The decision notes that ecclesiastical secrecy could not be invoked as Hezez made it clear he intended to make the facts public.

“Henceforth, Barbarin had the obligation to report these facts. He didn’t take the initiative despite Hezez’s request and insistence,” the court writes.

The court convicted Barbarin on Thursday and gave him a six-month suspended sentence. Preynat will be tried separately.

lawyer of french cardinal Barbarin
Jean-Felix Luciani, a lawyer for Cardinal Barbarin, answers reporters at the Lyon courthouse, central France, on March 7, 2019. (Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo)

The Vatican Yet to Respond

The Vatican isn’t immediately responding to requests for comment on the conviction of French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin for failing to report a known sexually abusive priest to civil authorities.

The Vatican spokesman didn’t immediately respond after the verdict was handed down Thursday.

Barbarin’s lawyer has said he will appeal.

Pope Francis has previously said the French justice system should take its course, but has praised Barbarin as “brave.”

The Vatican did, however, invoke diplomatic immunity in refusing to respond to related cover-up allegations against Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the head of its doctrine office. Ladaria was not put on trial.

lawyer for the french cardinal accused of sex abuse
Andre Soulier, a lawyer for Cardinal Barbarin, answers reporters at the Lyon courthouse, central France, on March 7, 2019. (Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo)

Response by Victims

Alleged victims of a pedophile priest say the conviction of a French cardinal for failing to report the accusations to judicial authorities is a great victory for child protection and a powerful message to the church.

Francois Devaux, the president of the association “La Parole Liberee” (Lift the Burden of Silence), a group of victims of the Rev. Bernard Preynat said, “We see that no one is above the law. We have been heard by the court. This is the end of a long path.”

Devaux added: “This is a victory that sends a strong signal to lots of victims and a signal to the church as well.”

A lawyer for some of Preynat’s alleged victims, Yves Sauvayre, called the verdict “historic.”

“This is a turning point,” he said.

group of representatives of sex abuse
Francois Devaux, the president of the association “La Parole Liberee” (Lift the Burden of Silence), a group of victims, answers reporters at the Lyon courthouse, central France, on March 7, 2019. (Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo)

Cardinal to Appeal the Verdict

The lawyer for a top Catholic official who has been found guilty of failing to report to judicial authorities accusations against a pedophile priest says his client will appeal the verdict.

Barbarin was not present at the court in Lyon for the verdict Thursday.

Five other defendants were acquitted. Alleged victims claim church hierarchy covered up for the Rev. Bernard Preynat for years. But by the time the four-day trial reached court in Lyon last January, the statute of limitations had expired on some charges.

The priest has confessed to abusing Boy Scouts in the 1970s and 80s and will be tried separately.

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