French court clears cardinal of shielding suspected pedophile priest | News | DW | 30.01.2020
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French court clears cardinal of shielding suspected pedophile priest

Last year Philippe Barbarin was convicted for failing to report alleged sex abuse by a priest in his diocese. However, the archbishop of Lyon has now been acquitted at appeal.

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin (picture-alliance/AP Photo/L. Cipriani)

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, center, arrives at the Lyon courtroom for his appeal trial

A French cardinal had his conviction overturned on Thursday for covering up alleged sex abuse of minors.

The archbishop of Lyon, Philippe Barbarin, was given a six-month suspended jail term in March of last year for not reporting a Catholic priest, who is suspected of having molested numerous boy scouts in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Read more: Opinion: After Cardinal Pell verdict, Catholic Church must reform

Barbarin was found guilty of twice failing to report the priest to the authorities. First in 2010 when he confessed to the archbishop that he had abused the children, and again four years later, when one of the alleged victims told the cardinal of the abuse he had received.

However, the appeals court in Lyon reasoned that it found no "intentional element" showing a cover-up.

Barbarin wants to step down 'to turn a new page'

Despite his acquittal, Barbarin said he would once again offer his resignation to the pope — after Pope Francis declined to accept it last year.

Thursday's ruling "allows me to turn a page and for the church of Lyon to open a new chapter,'' Barbarin said. He added that he would go to Rome to "renew my request."

The 69-year-old offered to stand down as archbishop of the southern French city after his initial conviction, but the pope rejected his resignation pending the outcome of an appeal.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin with Pope Francis (Reuters/Vatican Media)

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin with Pope Francis, who rejected his offer to resign after last March's conviction

"Cardinal Barbarin is innocent," Jean-Felix Luciani, an attorney for the cleric declared. "The court has recognized that the cardinal was telling the truth. He made mistakes. He admitted that. The Church certainly has made mistakes, but he is not the Church."

Vatican has yet to comment on the decision but another lawyer for the cardinal, Andre Soullier, said he was "more than satisfied" with the judgement.

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"I am going to end up believing in angels," he told reporters after the ruling was announced, adding that the cardinal was "a holy man."

Victims to contest decision

Nevertheless, plaintiffs in the case said they would be taking Thursday's acquittal of Barbarin to France's highest court of appeal.

In a similar case in Australia in 2018, the pope accepted the resignation of archbishop Philip Wilson after he was convicted of covering up abuse. Wilson later appealed successfully, but had already been replaced by the time the decision had been reversed.

jsi/msh (AFP, dpa, KNA, AP, Reuters)

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