Prosecutor declines to press charges at French cardinal’s cover-up trial
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A state prosecutor on Wednesday declined to press charges against a French cardinal accused of covering up sex abuse of minors by a priest in his diocese, but the court case rolled on.
Deputy public prosecutor Charlotte Trabut declined to call for a sentence against Philippe Barbarin, the 68-year-old archbishop of Lyon, on the third day of his trial.
Barbarin, the most senior Catholic cleric to be caught up in a paedophile scandal in France, is on trial along with five former aides.
Trabut's position had been expected, as the prosecutor's office had ruled as early as 2016 that there was no case to answer because of the statute of limitations.
The trial only went ahead because victims of the abuse bypassed the prosecutor's office and insisted, as they are entitled to, in putting their case before a court.
And under French law, the court can still convict and even jail the suspect, regardless of the prosecutor's position.
'You are a liar'
Earlier Wednesday, a lawyer for the victims launched a full-frontal attack on the cardinal's testimony in court.
"I say, cardinal Barbarin, that you are a liar when you said you only found out about the breadth of the damage in 2014", Jean Boudot, a lawyer for the victims said.
"I never sought to hide, much less cover up these horrible acts," Barbarin had told the court in Lyon earlier. "I don't see what I'm guilty of," he added.
Barbarin said he had confronted the accused priest, Bernard Preynat, about the abuse "rumours" in 2010 but let the matter drop after Preynat insisted he had changed.
In 2014, after meeting with one of the priest's victims, Barbarin contacted the Vatican about the affair, but he only removed the priest from his post a few months later.
He said he had been told by the Holy See to delay a while "to avoid a public scandal".
The abuse relates to acts allegedly committed by Preynat when he was a scout leader prior to 1991.
The scandal first blew up in 2015 when former scout François Devaux went public with allegations that Preynat had abused him as a child 25 years earlier.
On Tuesday, Barbarin said he had acted immediately after hearing Devaux's testimony, and had encouraged him to find other, more recent victims of the priest, so that he could be prosecuted.
Preynat was only suspended in September 2015 and charged in 2016. He is expected to stand trial later this year.
For Nadia Debbache, another lawyer for the victims, "attitudes in the Church have not changed" despite the sentencing of a bishop in a similar case in 2001.
"We are dealing with a tradition of silence, which is part of the history of the Catholic Church," she said.
The ninth plaintiff
On Wednesday, one of the nine plaintiffs who had not previously appeared in court finally showed up.
His lawyers said he had done so just hours after finally telling his wife about the abuse in his past.
In recent years, claims against priests have come to light in the wake of a global move by victims to go public with their stories.
Clerics have been denounced in countries as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ireland, and the United States, leading Pope Francis to promise to rid the church of a scourge that has done enormous damage to its standing.
If found guilty of failing to report abuse of minors and failing to assist persons in danger, Barbarin could face up to three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($54,000).
His lawyers are expected to lodge a plea on Thursday.