03 February 2020, The Tablet

Cardinal Barbarin to renew resignation request

Barbarin: 'For the Church in Lyon, it’s a chance to open a new chapter.'

Cardinal Barbarin to renew resignation request

Cardinal Barbarin during the Good Friday mass at Notre Dame de Fourviere Basilic in Lyon, France, on March 25, 2016.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin will resubmit this resignation as Lyon archbishop after an appeals court overturned his six-month suspended sentence for non-denunciation of a sexually abusive priest whose case has deeply shaken the French Church.

The court announced its decision on 30 January. It was expected because the public prosecutor had originally found insufficient evidence to prove Barbarin had covered up for the admitted sexual predator, the now defrocked priest Bernard Preynat. 

But public pressure for a trial was so strong that victims brought a private prosecution against Barbarin, who had left Preynat in office for years despite knowing of his abuse.  

“This decision allows a turning of the page. And for the Church in Lyon, it’s a chance to open a new chapter,” said Barbarin, 69, who denies any wrongdoing.

“Now, I can calmly renew my request (to resign).” 

In a short statement, the bishops conference noted the decision, assured Barbarin its support “in this new phase of his life” and thanked the victims who brought the truth to light.

A Vatican statement said Pope Francis “continues to follow closely the unfolding of these painful events and will make his decision known in due time”.

Barbarin, whose titles include Primate of the Gauls, first offered his resignation to Pope Francis after he was convicted last March. The pontiff, who has close ties to the once prominent prelate, unexpectedly asked him to wait for the appeals judgment.

The cardinal, the most senior French churchman involved in the international abuse scandal, stepped back from the Lyon post he took over in 2002 and mostly disappeared from view.

Francis then sidelined him last June when he named the experienced retired Bishop Michel Dubost as apostolic administrator with full authority, leaving Barbarin a lame duck likely to be replaced now that his legal battle is over.

“The Church should have been a model,” Dubost said after the appeals court decision. “We absolutely must have the required moral fibre to denounce what should be denounced.” 

While this chapter nears closure, another part of the Lyon abuse scandal rumbles on with the decision in Preynat’s trial due on March 16. Only 10 of Preynat’s estimated 75 or so abuse cases were on trial because they occurred between 1986 and 1991, still within the statute of limitations. He openly admitted to serial abuse of boy scouts starting in the 1970s.

Preynat, 74, said he was abused by priests and seminarians in his youth. “For me, at the time, I wasn’t committing sexual aggressing, just caressing them,” he told the court earlier this month. He also suggested several Lyon prelates knew of his abuse over the years and did nothing. "They told me: you're sick. They should have helped me. They let me become a priest,” he said.

A psychologist testifying in court called Preynat “mi-prêtre, mi-traître”, or part priest, part traitor, for the way he was popular in the community and won the confidence of boys he then abused. The prosecutor asked for a prison sentence of at least eight years. 

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