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French sex abuse victims seek answers from top Vatican official

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, pictured March 7, 2019, was given a six-month suspended jail sentence for failing to report allegations of sexual abuse against a French priest
French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, pictured March 7, 2019, was given a six-month suspended jail sentence for failing to report allegations of sexual abuse against a French priest AFP/File
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Lyon (AFP)

A paedophilia victims' group is calling for a Vatican cardinal to be stripped of his immunity so he can face prosecution over the cover-up of alleged sex abuse by a French priest, one of the victims said Wednesday

The announcement comes a day after Pope Francis rejected the resignation of a French cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was given a six-month suspended jail sentence for failing to report the allegations against the priest.

The pope's decision drew sharp condemnation from victims of Bernard Preynat, the priest who is charged with abusing dozens of boy scouts in the southeastern Lyon area in the 1980s and 1990s.

On Wednesday, Francois Devaux, head of an association of Preynat's victims, said the group was now pursuing efforts to bring Spanish cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the head of the Vatican's powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to trial.

Devaux said the association had sent a letter to the prosecutor's office in Lyon asking that the Vatican lift Ladaria's immunity for allegedly advising Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, not to report Preynat to the authorities.

On Monday, Barbarin met the pope at the Vatican and offered his resignation, but the pontiff refused it pending the outcome of his appeal against conviction.

Barbarin, 68, said that he would remain in Lyon pending the court appeal, but that he would step back from his job "for a little while".

- Pope causes French dismay -

Francis's response to the guilty finding against Barbarin caused an outcry in France, coming at a time when the Catholic Church is struggling to win trust in its efforts to fight child sexual abuse.

The chairman of the Bishops' Conference of France, which represents top French Catholic clerics, expressed "surprise" on Tuesday at Pope Francis' decision not to let Barbarin resign.

"I did not expect this scenario," Marseille archbishop Georges Pontier told AFP.

Others joined him on Wednesday in expressing their incomprehension, or even opposition to the decision.

Patric Terrace, chief editor of the Catholic weekly Golias, said he was "totally dismayed", especially as the pope had spoken of his "zero tolerance" for sexual abuse in the church.

"We see that he has neither the political will nor the political vision to deal with these cases," Terrace said.

The focus will now likely shift to how the Vatican deals with the request for Ladaria's immunity to be lifted.

During Barbarin's trial in Lyon, the prosecution had wanted Ladaria to testify, but the Vatican refused, citing his immunity.

He is the second Vatican official facing pressure to answer questions in France recently.

Last week, the Paris prosecutor's office asked the Holy See to lift the diplomatic immunity of the Vatican's envoy to France, archbishop Luigi Ventura.

Ventura, 74, a papal nuncio, is facing four complaints of sexual abuse in France, including an allegation he molested a junior official at the Paris city hall.

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