Cardinal Philipe Barbarin has been acquitted by a French appeals court of failing to report sexual abuse by a diocesan priest. The Archbishop of Lyon was convicted in March, 2019, of “of non-denunciation of ill-treatment” of a minor and given a six-month suspended prison sentence.
The decision Jan. 30 by the appeals court in Lyon was reached after prosecutors in the case sought the Cardinal’s vindication. The cardinal’s lawyer called the result “logical,” saying that Barbarin had been the subject of “calumny” over the course of the trial.
At the time of his conviction in March last year, five other archdiocesan officials on trial with Cardinal Barbarin were acquitted. Barbarin’s acquittal was widely expected on appeal after the prosecutor in the case argued there was no proof of the cardinal’s legal wrongdoing and therefore no grounds for conviction.
Cardinal Barbarin was accused of not reporting instances of abuse to judicial authorities between July 2014 and June 2015, in a case involving Fr. Bernard Preynat, who has been accused of abusing dozens of minors in the 1980s and early 90s.
In 2017, the cardinal told Le Monde that he did not conceal allegations against Fr. Preynat, but said that his response to the allegations had been “inadequate.” He said he opened an investigation against Fr. Preynat after becoming aware of the allegations against him and removed from ministry in 2015.
Cardinal Barbarin’s trial also made headlines when, in October 2018, the French court issued a summons to Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to testify in the case. The Vatican invoked diplomatic immunity, saying that as a minister of Vatican City State, Cardinal Lardaria is protected under international law.
The court summons had involved a letter Cardinal Ladaria sent to Cardinal Barbarin, advising him to take disciplinary action against Fr. Preynat, “while avoiding public scandal.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyers wanted Cardinal Ladaria to testify as to whether the direction to prevent scandal was intended as an injunction to avoid going to court, in which case, they said, the CDF prefect would have been complicit in failing to report the allegedly abusive priest to authorities.
Allegations against Fr. Preynat became public in 2015. Prosecutors dropped the case the following year after an initial investigation, but a victims’ group with more than 80 members who say they were abused by Fr. Preynat led to a reopening of the case. He now faces up to ten years in prison in a trial which is still ongoing.
At the time of his conviction, cardinal said that “after the decision of the court, regardless of my personal fate, I want to reiterate first of all compassion for the victims and the whole place that they and their families have in my prayers.”
Shortly after his conviction last year, Cardinal Barbarin met with Pope Francis to submit his resignation, but the pope refused to accept it while his appeal was pending.
Instead, Cardinal Barbarin elected to step back from the day-to-day governance of the Archdiocese of Lyon, leaving its management to the Vicar General.