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Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyons
Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

Opinion

Is French cardinal convicted of sex-abuse cover up latest victim of anti-Catholic witch hunt?

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

ANALYSIS

March 7, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyons and Primate of the Gauls, has received a six-month suspended prison sentence for failing to report between 2014 and 2015 “ill-treatment, deprivation or sexual abuse” regarding a minor under 15, even though the alleged crime took place in 1991 long before he became archbishop. The criminal court of Lyons simultaneously discharged five other defendants, all collaborators or former collaborators of the diocese, of any wrongdoing in the case. Barbarin’s legal counselors have already announced that the decision will be appealed, and the Cardinal himself continues to proclaim his innocence.

The correctional court of Lyons (in France, serious crimes are judged by a Court of assizes) decided: “Even though his functions gave him access to every information and though he had the capacity to analyze them and to report them usefully, Philippe Barbarin decided in conscience, in order to preserve the institution to which he belongs, not to communicate them to the judiciary.”

In a very short public statement to the press on Thursday afternoon in Lyons, Cardinal Barbarin announced his decision to tender his resignation to Pope Francis.

“I take due note of the tribunal’s decision. Irrespective of my personal fate, I reiterate my compassion for the victims and their families. I have decided to go and see the Holy Father to tender my resignation. He will see me in a few days. Thank you,” he said.

The news comes two weeks after Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was convicted of sexually abusing minors. Critics have denounced Pell’s prosecution and conviction as an anti-Catholic witch hunt instigated by media and police. Pell, like Barbarin, also maintains his innocence and will appeal the conviction. 

Barbarin had already tendered his resignation in 2016, months after the case of Fr. Bernard Preynat, a priest of the diocese of Lyons accused of having sexually abused nine boys over 25 years ago had become public. At that time, Pope Francis had refused, saying it “would not make sense” and constitute an “imprudence” in an interview with the unofficial daily of the French episcopate, La Croix. “We shall see when the trial is over. But now, it would mean acknowledging guilt,” he explained.

While Cardinal Barbarin has in effect been given a suspended prison sentence, the judicial procedures have certainly not come to an end. Remarkably, the public prosecution dropped the case against him after a first investigation in 2016. It said there was no reason to believe that Barbarin had in any way hindered the course of justice and also recalled that failure to report a crime dating back to 1991 was time-barred at the time the prelate was told about the abuse in 2014.

The three-year time-bar has since been modified but in principle, a more severe penal law cannot be used retroactively under the French judiciary system.

Failing to obtain a public investigation, nine of Preynat’s presumed victims – Preynat has yet to be judged for the crimes he is accused of having committed prior to 1991 – decided to bring an action against Barbarin on their own initiative. When such a private prosecution takes place, the public prosecutor takes no part in any investigation and the presumed victims are required to bring in proof or elements of proof justifying their action.

At the hearing in the case in January, this situation was confirmed by the fact that the public prosecutor did not demand a fine or a prison sentence against the cardinal, simply stating that it had chosen to remain impartial. “The public prosecution is not opposed to the civil claimants, nor is it supporting the accused without question,” said Charlotte Trabut.

As a rule, the public prosecution in France is charged with defending the public order and the interests of society. Its discretion in the Barbarin case was interpreted by many as a sign that the Cardinal could not be held responsible for acts that had taken place long before he took charge of the diocese of Lyons in 2002, all the more so because none of the victims had ever filed a complaint against the priest they have been publicly accusing since 2015.

The victims have explained at length how difficult it was for them to speak of the sexual abuse they experienced, even within their own families. It all took place when they were Boy Scouts in a Lyons parish. Fr. Preynat was their scouting chaplain at the time. There were suspicions about him at the time and in 1991, the then cardinal of Lyons, Albert Decourtray, having first suspended the priest for six months, decided to remove him to another region. Preynat would then be moved on to other parishes, in particular, because no complaint had been filed against him and since 1991 no further instances of sexual abuse had been reported.

In 2016, Barbarin told La Croix that the first he had heard about Preynat’s abuse was around 2007-2008. “I made an appointment with him and asked him whether anything at all had happened since 1991.” Preynat swore there had been nothing, while readily admitting the abuse he had committed before that date. Barbarin says he checked out whether there had been any further incidents of complaints.

There have in fact been accusations followed by police investigations since the affair was publicized five years ago but not one has been substantiated.

Barbarin also told La Croix in 2016 that if the current civil proceedings against Preynat did not lead to a condemnation, he would himself open a canonic procedure by asking Rome to waive the time-bar prescribed by canon law.

Does all this amount to a cover-up? Both of Barbarin’s predecessors took the decision not to suspend Preynat from his priestly obligations for a double reason: rightly or wrongly, they thought he would not re-offend, and there was no complaint, either civil or before the Church. This does not mean that they should not have been more prudent, but Barbarin does appear to a certain extent to have been made into a scapegoat.

The first formal accusation would come in July 2014 when Alexandre Dussot-Hezez took his story as a victim to the diocese of Lyons, having learned that Preynat was not only still alive, but was active in a local parish, charged with teaching catechism to schoolchildren.

Barbarin immediately wrote to Rome in order to report the accusation. Following up on the Vatican's reply, Preynat was suspended from his priestly functions in September 2015 even though the abuse had taken place 24 years previously. The reply included a recommendation to “avoid public scandal.” A civil case was launched against the priest.

A further nine victims then came forward – one went on to withdraw his complaint – and constituted an association, “La Parole libérée” (The liberated word), in order to obtain Barbarin’s conviction. In the lengthy judgment that was online (but not available for copying) for a short time on Thursday morning, it was made clear that the nine complainants unanimously acknowledged that their accusations had been taken seriously by the diocese and the Cardinal himself, and that their word had been accepted without question and with compassion.

François Devaux, a presumed victim of Preynat and president of the association, called the judgment of the Lyons criminal court a first step towards the “breaking of a system.” He called on Pope Francis to defrock not only the offenders but also all those accused of having covered up for them: “That is the only zero-tolerance that can exist.”

Since the news of Cardinal Barbarin’s conviction was made public on Thursday morning, the French secularist press has fallen over itself in accusing the Church. In the deeply anti-Catholic and masonic context of the French Republic, accusations of sexual abuse against a small number of offending priests, and rightful indignation at cover-ups that have indeed taken place, have also been instrumentalized in order to smear the clergy and the institution itself.

This has led to one-way accusations against the Church when sexual abuse takes place, while similar affairs in the State school system receive little publicity, and offending teachers are often simply removed to another educational establishment when they are found out. The one does not justify the other but media treatment of sexual abuse of minors is remarkably one-sided in France.

Another problem is the interference of secular justice within the Church in the Barbarin case, is that the seal of confession was involved. Also, Preynat is technically presumed innocent and it is, in fact, the State, together with heavy media pressure, that are dictating or trying to dictate canonic measures beyond the scope of human justice.

One of Barbarin’s lawyers, Jean-Félix Luciani, said after the sentence was handed down that the tribunal's motives were not convincing. He added: “It was difficult for the tribunal to resist to the pressure of documentaries, a film… All this poses real questions about the respect justice deserves.”

The last few weeks in France have been rich in anticlerical pressure. First, the book by Frédéric Martel, In the Closet of the Vatican, portrayed a large part of the ecclesiastical hierarchy as hypocrites guilty either of abuse or of cover-ups. It came out on February 20. Two weeks before the judgment a film about the Preynat affair opened in theaters over the country: Grâce à Dieu (“Thank God,” the words tactlessly used by Barbarin when noting that the crime of non-denunciation in the Preynat affair were time-barred) certainly did not respect the presumption of innocence either for him or for the accused priest. On Tuesday evening, a documentary concerning abuse against French nuns came out on State TV, also based on rumor and the presumption of guilt.

Whatever Barbarin’s personal responsibility – and he denies having wanted to hide the “horrible” abuse he does not deny took place – the combined attacks against the Church look like a deliberate and coordinated offensive. Cardinal Barbarin would be hard to classify as a conservative but he courageously fought same-sex “marriage” and even participated in public prayers against abortion together with the small group of SOS Tout-petits led by heroic pro-life doctor Xavier Dor.

It’s the paradox of the case. Mainstream media and official school curriculums unrelentingly distribute propaganda for the culture of death, gender ideology and complete sexual freedom – and a French Assises court even excused a migrant rapist a few months ago because his Bangladeshi culture supposedly prevented him from realizing that his 15-year-old victim was not consenting. Zero tolerance is not for all.

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