French Court Overturns Cardinal’s Conviction for Failing to Report Child Sex Abuse

Wall Street Journal

January 30, 2020

By Noemie Bisserbe and Francis X. Rocca

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin’s conviction was the first of such a high-ranking Catholic Church official

A French appeals court overturned Thursday the conviction of a cardinal who had been found guilty of failing to report child sex abuse—a case that has become a barometer of Pope Francis ’ efforts to police the Catholic Church’s highest ranks.

The ruling potentially removes one major concern for the Vatican, which is still beset by abuse scandals involving high-ranking prelates and a larger crisis of confidence fueled by decades of clerical sex abuse of minors.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon and France’s highest-ranking Catholic prelate, was found guilty in March of failing to report child sex abuse, the only conviction of such a high-ranking Catholic Church official for covering up instances of a crime that has deeply marred the church’s image.

Judges ruled that Cardinal Barbarin failed to report an allegation in July 2014, when a man notified the prelate that he had been abused as a child by the Rev. Bernard Preynat, a priest in the archdiocese. Cardinal Barbarin was given a six-month suspended jail sentence.

On Thursday, appellate court judges ruled that Cardinal Barbarin wasn’t obligated to report the 2014 allegation because the victim was an adult by then and capable of alerting authorities himself. If Cardinal Barbarin were to be held responsible, the judges said, then friends and parents who also knew could face similar charges.

There is also no evidence that Cardinal Barbarin tried to dissuade the victim from filing a complaint against the priest, the judges said.

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