PARIS - A top French cardinal announced his resignation Thursday after being found guilty of covering up a pedophilia scandal involving a priest in his diocese. Tthe verdict was issued shortly after a landmark sexual abuse summit at the Vatican.
In a statement to the media shortly after being handed a six-month suspended prison term, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin said he would be submitting his resignation to Pope Francis within days. Barbarin said independently of his personal fate, he wanted to express compassion for sexual abuse victims in his Diocese of Lyon. He said they and their families would be in his prayers.
One of Barbarin’s lawyers, Jean-Felix Luciani, told French radio the cardinal would appeal the conviction. The court found Barbarin guilty of failing to report allegations that a priest in his diocese, Bernard Preynat, had sexually abused Boy Scouts during the 1980s and ‘90s. Barbarin argued he only learned of the abuse years later, and that he had followed Vatican instructions at the time in handling such cases.
Francois Devaux, one of those allegedly abused by Father Preynat and who later helped to found a victims’ association, told reporters Barbarin’s verdict sent a strong message that nobody is above the law. He called it a victory for child protection.
Barbarin is the latest high-level cleric to be convicted in relation to a church sexual abuse scandal. A top Vatican official, Australian Cardinal George Pell, was recently convicted of sexual abuse. Both verdicts follow Pope Francis’ high-level Vatican meeting on the issue last month.
In France, a recently released movie focuses on the Lyon abuse scandal involving Father Preynat, who is due to go on trial later this year.