Pope Francis has handed the leadership of the Archdiocese of Lyon to a retired bishop, removing authority from its archbishop, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was convicted of mishandling clerical sexual abuse earlier this year.
Bishop Michel Dubost, 77, who used to lead the small diocese of Evry Corbeil-Essonnes, in the southern suburbs of Paris, now has executive responsibility for governing Lyon, whose archbishop is traditionally known as the “Primate of the Gauls”.
In March, Cardinal Barbarin, 68, was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty by a French court of failing to report sex abuse. Following the verdict, he came to Rome to offer his resignation to the Pope. Francis refused it, saying later that the cardinal should be allowed to appeal the court’s decision.
The cardinal stepped aside from his responsibilities and placed his vicar-general in charge of running the archdiocese - although he remained as archbishop. Vicar-generals act with the delegated authority of a bishop and retain a close connection to their superior.
The decision by the Pope to appoint Bishop Dubost as the apostolic administrator of Lyon is an intervention that ends the Barbarin regime in the archdiocese, taking all power away from the cardinal, who remains archbishop in name only. Bishop Dubost has been appointed as administrator “sede plena et ad nutum Sanctæ Sedis”, meaning he has full authority and will report directly to the pope. Although initially supporting the cardinal, the latest move by Francis suggests he is likely to accept Barbarin’s resignation, and eventually move to appoint a new archbishop.
A parallel with the Lyon case can be drawn in Adelaide, Australia when Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted for failing to report clerical sexual abuse. He was later acquitted on appeal. In the aftermath of the conviction, the archbishop placed his vicar-general in charge of the archdiocese, before the Pope appointed Bishop Gregory O’Kelly as apostolic administrator. The Pope accepted Archbishop Wilson’s resignation from Adelaide on 30 July 2018, although on 6 December 2018, the archbishop had his conviction quashed.
Speaking about Barbarin at the end of March the pope has said there is a “presumption of innocence” and “we’ll see what happens” after the appeal process is finished. Some church sources say the cardinal’s decision to come to Rome and offer his resignation was a way of buying time, and Barbarin could have simply announced he was resigning without putting the decision squarely into the lap of the Pope.
The Barbarin case has come at a tense moment in French-Holy See relations with the nuncio to France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, accused of sexual assault against a male employee of the Mayor of Paris’ office. Three others have accused him of inappropriate conduct, and an inquiry is under way.
A major role of the nuncio is to advise the Pope on appointing bishops.