LYONS, France, April 4, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyons, in France, is under heavy media fire for having allegedly covered up a series of child abuse cases among the clergy of his diocese. Up to six priests of his diocese are accused of inappropriate behavior or even rape; some have been convicted or are under suspicion and pressure is growing for the Primate of Gaul to step down because he “failed” to report the cases to the authorities or because he did not sanction the priests severely enough. Prime Minister Manuel Valls interfered vocally on March 15, calling on the cardinal to “face up to his responsibility.” Overall, the affair is turning into a major public attack against the Catholic Church in France.
Most recently, a middle-aged man only known as “Pierre,” who works for the Ministry of the Interior, accused Barbarin of not having removed a priest of the Lyons archdiocese from active parish work. He says the priest abused him in the early 1990s and that he told the cardinal about this in 2009.
On Wednesday morning the archbishop’s palace in Lyons was searched by the police under a court order.
But that’s not the whole story. Shortly after the police search, a spokesperson for the archdiocese recalled that Cardinal Barbarin has repeatedly said that he is prepared to work “transparently” with the judiciary, and “with complete confidence.” All the acts that are now under scrutiny are alleged to have taken place in the 1980s and 1990s, several years before Philippe Barbarin was named archbishop of Lyons in 2002 by Saint John Paul II. Those priests who were suspected of child abuse were either condemned and removed from the clergy, or no complaint was ever filed against them, or they were closely watched and no new evidence of abuse ever turned up over more than 15 years. Several of the victims who are accusing the cardinal now never went to the police with their stories.
While the whole affair appears largely to be a fabrication in view of hurting the Church and Cardinal Barbarin, who was very outspoken in the same-sex “marriage” debate and supportive of the “Manifs pour tous” that put hundreds of thousands in the streets for the defense of true marriage, it is true that the cases of child abuse by priests that have come to light are the sign of profound evil at work even in the Church.
During Holy Week, Bishop Bernard Ginoux of Montauban in the south of France sent a letter to all the priests of his diocese commenting on the “turbulences” at hand in which he pointed to the omnipresence of pornography and sexualized imagery as one of the major sources of the present troubled situation: a very insightful text.
This is what he wrote:
Faced with a serious situation where private judgments are taking the place of facts, our first concern is to serve the truth. In this case only the courts can define the liability and possible guilt of Cardinal Barbarin and of his entourage. The presumption of innocence must come first, be it at the judiciary level or from the human point of view. We must therefore let justice take its course, also recalling that the courts have already ruled on these cases since the reported facts took place long ago and have already been tried. The harm done to children and young people cannot be erased by any statute of limitation, because their wounds can never be taken away. We must forcefully repeat that such acts are at the exact opposite of our mission, which is to be at the service of all.
Our vocation to serve compels us to question our lifestyle. It is obvious that the search of Self, vowing a cult to one’s own personality, the temptation to be surrounded by flatterers, the need to dominate, and many other behaviors are leading priests to what Pope Francis calls ‘worldliness’: having the spirit and the ways of the world and ultimately, adopting its behavior. You will surely agree that there is little room for maoeuvre. Without stopping, in fact, public opinion demands that priests should be close to all, to be ‘like everybody else’, that they should move with the times, adapting constantly, and it wished, according to polls, that the Church should no longer set guidelines. But when there is a wrong, the same priests are despised by the same public opinion and the Church is accused. This is an obvious contradiction that forgets that without grace, the priest is a weak man who can fall into sinful acts. The strength of the priest is his life in Christ.
It must be added that among the solicitations of the world there is escalation of talk and images relative to sex. Sexuality, which is a good thing willed by God, that allows man and woman to live in a relationship of communion, is being diverted from this objective to become instead a motor of culture and trade. We are immersed in a pornographic world in which no one is unscathed. When the Church warns about this danger, it is ridiculed and stigmatized. Yet it is the erosion of the concept of good and evil that obscures judgment, and that leads to a rousseauist conception of human conscience: ‘What I feel to be right is right, what I feel to be wrong is wrong’ (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, L’Emile). But conscience does not come from what one feels: it is the union of will, intelligence and faith that allow me to find out the truth about myself and admit that there are acts that I can never commit, acts that are always evil. Child abuse, abusing young people and people who are weak are part of those acts. They deeply and permanently damage a creature of God, an innocent person who put his trust in the priests who represents so much. That is the real aggravating circumstance: using one’s authority to achieve an ignoble purpose. That is what explains the reactions of the public opinion which is outraged when such cases occur. But at the same time, society praises all forms of sexuality.
What should we do?
We all have to recognize that these sad affairs are not foreign to us because all members of the Church are united. We cannot accept that weak persons should be scarred for life and we must defend them without hesitation: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ That is why our first concern should be to give support to the victims and to condemn everything that hurts children and youth.
We have to listen to people and to understand their discomfort. Many continue to put their trust in the Church. Let us welcome them and help them find peace, particularly by making them evoke good figures of priests whom they knew. Do not forget that for the faithful who are bewildered, talking to a priest is important. Let us listen! This listening, which refuses to criticize and to judge, is a fraternal service often evoked by Pope Francis when he insists on the proximity of the pastor with his ‘sheep’. We should also consider that often, not far from us, victims of pedophilia and sexual abuse on the part of people around them who are not priests are suffering in silence!
This is the year of Mercy. Let us ask forgiveness for our weaknesses, our sins, our refusal to be poor servants. The key to change is in the conversion of heart of each one of us. As priests we are called to follow Christ, the ‘Good Shepherd’, and as Christ, we must first of all pray for and with our parishioners. We must question ourselves in truth:
What sort of a pastor am I really?
Am I a ‘mercenary shepherd’?
Do I ‘give my life for my sheep’, each day?
Do I take up my mission as a service?
Do I live out this service like Jesus, like a servant who is stripped of everything and disarmed?
How do I live out God's mercy to myself?
What is the place of my brothers in my life as a deacon or a priest?
How consistent are my life and my ministry: ‘Imitate what you shall accomplish, and conform your life to the mystery of the cross of Our Lord’ (ritual of the ordination of priests).
We are in the Easter triduum and we are going to relive the Passion and Death of Jesus. He died to save us from our sins. In contemplating the Crucified One we give thanks to God who, in Jesus, bestows mercy to the sinners that we are. Our hope is rooted in the mystery of faith: together with Jesus, we pass from death to life. On the way to the joy of Easter let us remember that we are on the path to resurrection.