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French cardinal convicted of child sex abuse cover-up

Jeff Pachoud, AFP | Lyon's archbishop, cardinal Philippe Barbarin, arrives at the city's courthouse to attend his trial on January 8, 2019.

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin has said he will offer his resignation to the pope after a French court found him guilty of failing to report to justice accusations against a paedophile priest in his diocese.

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The Lyon court's surprise decision in a landmark trial for France was seen by alleged victims as a victory for child protection and a strong signal to the Catholic Church.

The court handed Barbarin a six-month suspended prison sentence for not reporting the cases in the period between July 2014 and June 2015.

In a brief statement to the media, Barbarin said "I have decided to go and see the Holy Father to offer him my resignation." He said he would meet Pope Francis "in a few days," and expressed his "compassion" for the alleged victims.

Alleged victims of the Rev. Bernard Preynat claim Barbarin and other church officials covered up for him for years, but the statute of limitations had expired on some charges and even the prosecutor had said the cardinal should be acquitted.

Five other defendants were acquitted.

Barbarin trial 'liberated the voices of victims'

In the court's decision, magistrates wrote that Barbarin "had the obligation to report" accusations because the alleged victims didn't request the ecclesiastic secrecy.

Alexandre Dussot-Hezez, one of the alleged victims and among those who brought the case to trial, met Barbarin in November 2014 and kept informing him that there were probably other victims.

"Cardinal Barbarin never showed any doubt about the information," the court wrote.

Barbarin was not present at the Lyon court Thursday. His lawyer, Jean-Felix Luciani, said he will appeal.

"This is a decision that is not fair at the juridical level," Luciani said. He added: "We hope that at the next step, justice will be done."

'An unprecedented decision from the French courts'

Preynat has confessed to abusing Boy Scouts in the 1970s and '80s and will be tried separately.

Nine people who said the priest abused them brought the case against Barbarin to court.

"This is a victory that sends a strong signal to lots of victims and a signal to the church as well," said François Dévaux, president of the association "La Parole Libérée" (Lift the Burden of Silence), a group of victims of Preynat.

"We see that no one is above the law. We have been heard by the court. This is the end of a long path," Dévaux added.

The victims say top clergy had been aware of Preynat's actions since 1991, but allowed him to be in contact with children until his 2015 retirement.

In addition to Barbarin, an archbishop, a bishop, a priest and two other officials had been on trial. Another top Catholic official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, was among the accused - but didn't appear in court because the Vatican invoked his diplomatic immunity.

The Vatican spokesman didn't immediately respond after the verdict was handed down.

The French church has been roiled in recent years by allegations against predator priests which have come to light in the wake of a global move by victims to come forward with evidence.

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 the scourge that has done enormous damage to its standing.

'This is not a good moment for the Catholic Church'

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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