This case is the symbol of the failings of the Church in the face of pedophilia. Convicted at first instance, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was released on appeal, Thursday, January 30, for his silence on the sexual abuse of a priest. On March 7, the criminal court had sentenced the 69-year-old archbishop to six months suspended prison sentence for not having denounced the sexual assaults committed by Bernard Preynat on young scouts between 1971 and 1991.
The cardinal, absent at the rendering of the decision, did not react immediately, nor the Vatican. “This injustice is repaired today (…) Cardinal Barbarin is innocent, he never tried to obstruct the course of justice,” praised one of his lawyers, M e Jean-Félix Luciani.
“The court recognized that the cardinal was telling the truth. He made mistakes, mistakes. He said it. The Church has certainly made mistakes and mistakes but it does not embody the Church ”
The civil parties have announced a cassation appeal, by the voice of one of their lawyers.
At first instance, the judges had considered that by not reporting to justice the acts that a victim had described to him in 2014, Philippe Barbarin had chosen to “preserve the institution” . The primate of Gaul in title, whose pope refused to resign, had immediately appealed, not finding himself guilty before the justice of men, when he had asked “forgiveness for [his] own faults during a mass “ . “I have never tried to hide, much less to cover up these horrible facts, ” he often repeated, while the victims denounced an “omerta” dictated by the Vatican.
At the appeal hearing at the end of November, the Advocate General Joël Sollier had asked for release by dissociating the “individual case” of Cardinal Barbarin and the “moral and penal faults” committed by the Church in the face of pedophile crime in its ranks . “That a trial be made to the Church …” Thursday launched another lawyer of the archbishop, M e André Soulier, for which the client does not have to “atone for all the sins that have been committed” .
Former father Bernard Preynat, defrocked after his canonical trial in July, appeared before the criminal court ten days ago in Lyon. A sentence of at least eight years in prison was required against him, the judgment being set for March 16.
Cardinal Barbarin, made aware of the priest’s attacks in the 2000s, summoned him in 2010 for a change of assignment. As at first instance, the Court of Appeal found that the Archbishop knew enough, then, to denounce him. But this offense falls under the limitation period, which is three years in the matter of non-denunciation.
“A strong sense of disappointment”
The Court of Appeal considered, on the other hand, that the cardinal could not be reproached for anything after 2014, when a victim of Preynat – Alexandre Hezez – contacted him, because he was able to file a complaint by herself- even, like all the others, what they did in the end.
This was the defense argument: “For us, the cardinal does not have to report an offense in place of a man who is not unable to do so. It is not reasonable for the entire hierarchy of the clergy and all the relatives of the victims could be prosecuted, “ believes M e Luciani.
“There is bound to be a strong feeling of disappointment but the decision is not tender either with Cardinal Barbarin”, reacted M e Jean Boudot, one of the lawyers of the civil parties, who intends “to discuss again”, before the Court of Cassation, the prescription of the facts of 2010. And to add:
“For the release on the facts after 2013, the court’s decision is an extremely original decision, which actually says that we do not have to report sexual violence against minors once the minor has reached the age of majority . To my knowledge, this is the first time that an appellate court has rendered a decision of this type [which] seems completely inconsistent. “
“I do not think we should regret all that has been committed,” commented for his part one of the complainants, François Devaux, president of the association La Parole libéré, for whom this scandal led the Church to question themselves.