THE RC Archbishop of Lyons, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, is to go on trial next year on charges of failing to report known child abuse carried out by an RC priest in the late 1980s. It is illegal not to report suspected child abuse to the authorities in France.
The priest, Fr Bernard Preynat, was charged in March last year with several counts of “sexual aggression and rape of minors” between 1986 and 1991, at Saint-Luc, in Lyons, where he ran an RC Boy Scout group.
The archdiocese reportedly relocated Fr Preynat to another parish, in Neulise, in 1990, after learning of his illicit activities. Four complaints were made to the archdiocese in 2007 by former Boy Scouts.
Cardinal Barbarin, who became Archbishop in 2002, took no action, however, after receiving assurances from Fr Preynat at that time.
A further complaint was made in 2014, but an investigation was not opened by Cardinal Barbarin until August the next year, during which time Fr Preynat was permitted to continue ministering, and had continued contact with children.
A police inquiry was launched. At least 45 survivors have since come forward.
The Cardinal was summoned as a witness at the request of the original complainants, last year. In May 2016, Pope Francis told the French RC newspaper La Croix: “Based on the information that I have, I believe that Cardinal Barbarin in Lyons took the necessary measures and that he has matters under control.”
The offices of archdiocese of Lyons were searched by police in March this year.
Failing to report allegations of child abuse to the authorities in France carries a three-year prison sentence, and a £35,000 fine. Cardinal Barbarin, who denies any wrongdoing, will appear in the court in Lyons in April, alongside six other priests accused of the same.
The National Secular Society (NSS) said that it had felt forced to intervene in the case. Its executive director, Keith Porteous Wood, said: “The NSS was closely connected with examination of the Vatican by the United Nations over child abuse.
“We were so concerned about the failure to prosecute Cardinal Barbarin for his admitted failure to report an abusive priest that we drafted a letter for a French affiliate to send to their Minister of Justice, calling for him to be treated just like any other French citizen.
“The Church, despite having almost limitless funds, continues throughout the world, with Vatican complicity, to evade paying compensation to the many victims of abuse for which it is responsible.”
The UK must follow France in implementing mandatory reporting laws, he said. “Those who have reasonable suspicions about child abuse, at least in institutions, should have a legal obligation to report it and provide evidence, on pain of harsh criminal sanctions.”