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Pope Defends Decision to Reject Convicted French Cardinal's Resignation

Pope Francis, flanked by interim director of Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, speaks to reporters on board the flight back to Rome from a two-day trip to Morocco, Sunday, March 31, 2019.

Pope Francis on Sunday defended his decision to refuse to accept the resignation earlier this month of French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was convicted of failing to report sexual abuse allegations to police.

Francis, who spoke with reporters on his return from a two-day trip to Morocco, said a final decision wouldn't be made until Barbarin's appeal process was completed.

"I can't accept it (resignation) because in juridical terms, in classic world jurisprudence, there is the presumption of innocence as long as the case is open, and he has appealed," the pope said.

Barbarin offered his resignation on March 18. He said at the time the pope "spoke of the presumption of innocence and did not accept" it.

Francis instead asked Barbarin, the most senior French cleric involved in the Catholic Church's worldwide pedophilia scandal, to do what Barbarin believes is best for the Lyon archdiocese. The 68-year-old cardinal has decided to take a leave of absence and has asked his assistant to assume leadership of the archdiocese until the appeal process is over.

Barbarin was sentenced to a six-month suspended sentence earlier this month for failing to report a predator priest to authorities. The priest, Benard Preynat, allegedly sexually abused boy scouts in the 1980s and 1990s.

The pope has previously defended Barbarin, saying in 2016 that his resignation before a trial would be "an error, imprudent."