A French cardinal once tipped as a future Pope has quit after receiving a six-month suspended sentence for covering up child sex abuse by one of his priests.
Philippe Barbarin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Lyon, was convicted of failing to act on historic allegations of abuse of boy scouts in his diocese.
The 68-year-old, who has is the highest-profile cleric to be caught up in the child sex abuse scandal inside the Catholic Church in France.
He has now said he will submit his resignation to Pope Francis after being found guilty of failing to report allegations of abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s by Reverand Bernard Preynat who is due to go on trial later this year.
‘The responsibility and guilt of the cardinal have been confirmed by this judgement. It’s an extraordinary symbol, a moment of huge emotion,’ a lawyer for the victims, Yves Sauvayre, told reporters afterwards.
Barbarin, who was not in court for the verdict, would contest the decision, his lawyers said. ‘We’ll see you here in a few months time for an appeal,’ defence lawyer Jean-Felix Luciani told reporters outside the courtroom.
French cardinal Philippe Barbarin (pictured) who covered up child sex abuse by one of his priests has walked from from court after receiving a six-month suspended sentence
Barbarin said today that the victims and their family were in his prayers.
He and five former aides went on trial in Lyon at a time when the Catholic Church has been hit by abuse scandals in countries as far afield as Australia, Chile and the United States.
The outcome of the trial, which began in January, had been long awaited in France.
Earlier, he had said: ‘I cannot see what I am guilty of. I never tried to hide, let alone cover up these horrible facts.’
But Francois Devaux, who leads a victims’ group in Lyon and was one of up to 85 victims of Preynat, called Thursday’s verdict a ‘major victory for child protection.’
The case broke three years ago and lawyers for nine adult plaintiffs – former boy scouts allegedly abused by priest Preynat – took legal action.
Since the abuse relates to acts committed before 1991, prosecutors had declined to press charges because of the statute of limitations.
The trial went ahead only because the plaintiffs bypassed the prosecutor’s office and insisted, as they are entitled, on putting their case before a court.
Under French law, the court can still convict and even jail the suspect, regardless of the prosecutor’s position.
Philippe Barbarin (pictured), the Roman Catholic archbishop of Lyon, was convicted of failing to act on historic allegations of abuse of boy scouts in his diocese
Barbarin and his co-defendants have denied covering up the scandal, with the archbishop saying he found out the full story about the priest only after it became public.
Preynat, who was charged with sexual abuse in 2016, is expected to be tried later this year.
He was first interviewed by church leaders in 1991, but Barbarin only suspended him and stopped him from working with children in September 2015.
Plaintiffs point to an exchange in 2015 between Barbarin and the Vatican, which advised him to dismiss the offending priest ‘while avoiding public scandal’.
Jean Boudot, lawyer for the victims, accused Barbarin of being a ‘liar’ when he said he had only learned of the breadth of the damage in 2014.
Barbarin said he confronted Preynat, about the abuse ‘rumours’ in 2010 but let the matter drop after Preynat insisted he had changed.
In 2014, after meeting with one of the priest’s victims, Barbarin contacted the Vatican about the affair, but he only removed the priest from his post a few months later.
Two other French religious figures have been convicted of failing to report child abuse in the past: the archbishop of Bayeux-Lisieux, Pierre Rican, in 2001, and the former bishop of Orleans, Andre Fort, last year.
Pope Francis last month promised an ‘all-out battle’ to tackle every single case of sexual abuse by priests, comparing paedophilia to ‘human sacrifice’, but drew an angry response from victims.