The French Catholic church and its pedophilia scandal

By Valentin Pinel Le Dret
Affairs Today
March 28, 2016

Again the Catholic Church gets tangled up in various scandals of pedophilia. However this new controversy seems to have reached the top of the hierarchy,the person in question: Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon.

A controversy which seems to tell us more about a social division in France rather than a criminal case. ‘Most of the cases, thanks God!, are time barred.’ said the Cardinal Barbarin interviewed about the recent scandals of pedophilia. Even though the Cardinal will apologise later on for those terrible words, his statements represent a certain mindset within the French Catholic Church and its supporters. The facts of pedophilia against young scouts go back to the late 1980s. Father Bernard Preynat admitted the charges against him in January 2015, however, he was removed from office in August 2015. Another case of pedophile abuse committed by a priest was revealed in an interview published by the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, with events dating back to the 1990s. The controversy has focused on the person of Cardinal Barbarin. Some victims of the pedophile priests have decided to lodge charges against him, mainly for not revealing the facts which he certainly knew since 2007. The Preynat father told the police that the facts he is accused of were known by the high clergy in 1991. In addition, a communication error of the Cardinal himself led him to admit that he knew the facts since 2007 while his diocese had officially stated that he had been made aware of the cases in 2014.

However some say that he was not yet Cardinal when the facts occurred (which is not an excuse in itself) and that he has always demonstrated a certain good faith facing similar cases of pedophilia since taking office in 2002. Cardinal Barbarin is not unknown in France, on the contrary, he was both vocal and instrumental in upholding his views against same-sex marriages, as well as affirming that to allow homosexuals to get married would in turn to lead to the legalisation of incest. The involvement of the Cardinal in this social debate has long been talk in France, especially when we know the difficult relations between the country and religion. On this occasion the Cardinal made an important enemy, Manuel Valls, back then Home Affairs Minister and now Prime Minister. The latter has already called Barbarin to resign. A call that many commentators are criticising, as policy makers do not see why the Prime Minister calls to the resignation of a clergyman. Of course the left wing party and the liberal press are at the avante-garde against Barbarin and the Catholic Church.  Barbarin is a symbol of a catholic revival in France, indeed since the ‘Manif pour tous’, namely the movement against the gay marriage, the Catholic voice has become more assumed and affirmed within a very religious-hostile France. The sociology of the Catholic revival movement is particularly interesting. It is found that the majority are young people and embrace all aspects of modernity.Blogs, Twitters, Facebook, and other social media platforms are mobilised to convey these convictions.

This resurgence of Catholic ideology in France is tied with the Conservative revival. This new Catholic electorate voted for 32% for the Front National, the Marine Le Pen’s party. This shift towards the extreme right is perfectly logical in a context where the Conservatives fail to convince on themes dear to the Catholic wing: marriage, divorce, abortion, contraception, protection of French Christian roots. Moreover, new heralds of the far right, young and openly Catholic, as the niece of Marine Le Pen, Marion Marechal, do not hesitate to offer programs based on Christian and conservative approach. The left wing is trying to counter this Catholic rise. But its efforts are often useless in front of the conservative wing which tries to retrieve the rhetoric from the extreme right. Cardinal Barbarin has expressed on many occasions his refusal to resign. It is supported by the Vatican. However Pope Francis has called for further investigations and initiatives, namely to actively fight against the scandals of pedophilia. We’ll see if the Catholic Church will take its responsibilities.


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