Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a French cardinal who failed to report an alleged paedophile priest, the Catholic Church in Lyon said Friday.
Archbishop of Lyon Philippe Barbarin is the most senior French priest to be caught up in a global paedophilia scandal that has seen clergy hauled before courts from Argentina to Australia.
Barbarin, 69, a staunch conservative who became archbishop of the French city in 2002, has long been accused by victims’ groups of turning a blind eye to decades of child abuse in his diocese that blighted many lives.
He was convicted last year of not reporting a priest for allegedly abused dozens of boy scouts in the 1980s and 1990s — but the conviction was overturned on appeal in January.
Appeals judges said Barbarin should have reported the priest but found that he could not be held criminally liable because the incidents happened too long ago.
Hours after the ruling, Barbarin announced he would offer his resignation to the pope, who had refused an initial request pending the outcome of the appeal. This time, the pope accepted his offer.
Bernard Preynat, the priest he was initially convicted of protecting, has been defrocked and is awaiting a ruling on March 16 in a sex-abuse trial.
Preynat confessed at trial in January to “caresses” he knew were forbidden and admitted he got sexual pleasure from acts with boy scouts at camps he supervised.
– ‘Seriously objectionable’ –
Barbarin was initially given a six-month suspended sentence last March after he failed to report Preynat despite being told of alleged abuse on two occasions — by the priest himself in 2010 and four years later by an alleged victim.
The cardinal said on Friday the last four years had been ones of “great, great suffering” for him, telling KTO Catholic TV channel: “I think there is a great deal of suffering that the victims bore first, and it is really for them that we must pray.
“These were terrible acts and it is important that a page be turned.”
Barbarin’s eventual trial came largely because a group of victims campaigned for an investigation.
The appeals judges said it was “seriously objectionable from a moral point of view” that Preynat had been allowed to remain in contact with children for five years after he confessed the abuse to Barbarin.