French cardinal admits mistakes in child sex abuse cases

April 26, 2016

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, in August, 2008.
Photo by Charles Platiau

A French cardinal said his diocese has made “some mistakes” in the management and nomination of certain priests amid allegations that he had covered up child sex abuse cases.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin stressed the “importance” for the victims “to see their right to truth and justice recognized” in a statement issued Monday following a meeting on the issue with 220 priests from the Lyon region.

Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon and one of the highest-ranking church officials in France, is among six church officials targeted by complaints for not reporting child sex abuse cases to judicial authorities.

The French Catholic Church has decided this month to set up a new independent commission made up of secular experts in charge of advising bishops and helping them handle child sex abuses cases.

Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the French bishops’ conference, announced in mid-April a series of measures to fight pedophilia inside the French church, amid growing concerns over newly-revealed child sex abuse cases, especially in the Lyon diocese run by Barbarin.

He said that “the commission will be in place before the summer of 2016.”

Pontier also said between 0.7 percent and 1.5 percent of priests in the world have been involved in sex child abuse cases, according to figures centralized by the Vatican. Pontier met with Pope Francis in Rome in early April.

In late March, French investigators searched Catholic church offices in Lyon amid allegations that Barbarin and others had covered up a priest’s sexual abuse of boy scouts.

Barbarin’s office said in a statement at the time that the headquarters of the Lyon diocese were searched as part of a preliminary investigation into the case, and that Church officials have handed over documents “to shed light on these painful events.”

Barbarin’s spokesman Pierre Durieux said the search had been concluded, but would not elaborate in terms of any items or records that may have been seized by police.

Barbarin is among six church officials targeted in a case prompted by allegations that a priest had molested boy scouts in the 1980s. Barbarin, who wasn’t a cardinal at the time, said in late March that he had never concealed abuse by priests.

In 2001, France became the first country in the world to convict a Catholic bishop for failing to disclose a charge of child sexual abuse against one of his priests.

Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, France, was sentenced by a French court to three months in prison, though that term was suspended, for failing to denounce Father René Bissey, convicted in October 2000 for sexual abuse of eleven minor boys between 1989 and 1996.

The last time a bishop had been convicted of anything in France was in 1841 in Angers, but, then, it was over a murder by a priest in his diocese. Pican, who resigned in 2010 as head of the Bayeux-Lisieux diocese in Normandy, in western France, said he had learned of Bissey’s acts in confidential talks — outside the church confessional where secrets are considered sacrosanct.

Controversy over that episode was renewed in 2010 when a letter was revealed from a former senior Vatican official, Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy from 1998 to 2006, addressed to Pican to congratulate him for not reporting Bissey to police.

“I rejoice to have a colleague in the episcopate that, in the eyes of history and all the other bishops of the world, preferred prison rather than denouncing one of his sons and priests,” Castrillón wrote.

Vatican spokesmen at the time distanced themselves from those sentiments, noting that responsibility to sexual abuse cases inside the Vatican belongs not to the Congregation for Clergy but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


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