Priest at heart of French cardinal's cover-up trial is defrocked

By Céline Hoyeau
La Croix International
July 05, 2019

Accused of sexual assault on more than 70 scouts, Bernard Preynat was reduced to the secular state.

Bernard Preynat was found guilty of committing criminal sex acts against minors under 16 years of age

Bernard Preynat is no longer a priest, according to the verdict handed down on July 4 by the Archdiocese of Lyon ecclesiastical court. The former French Scout chaplain of Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon was accused of sexual assaults on more than 70 Scouts in the 1970s-1980s.


It's been years of waiting but the satisfaction is evident among Preynat's victims.

The development should have been taken more than 30 years ago, said Didier Bardiau, also kown as François Devaux, "with his first confession."

Preynat was "found guilty of committing criminal acts of a sexual nature against minors under 16 years of age" and dismissed from the clerical state.

This is "the maximum penalty provided for by Church law in such a case," said the ecclesiastical tribunal - made up of three priests - responsible for studying his criminal case, in its verdict.

It is justified, added the statement, "in view of the facts and their recurrence, the large number of victims, the fact that Father Bernard Preynat abused the authority conferred on him by his position within the Scout group he had founded and which he had led since its creation."

The procedure had been suspended for one year

Already suspended from all ministry and sacraments, Preynat, soon to be 75, has one month to appeal to the court of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

This decision comes after several years of twists and turns. Once the decision obtained from Rome had been lifted, the Archdiocese of Lyon had opened, at the request of the Vatican, an administrative canonical procedure.

But this one presented a double pitfall: The final decision was left to the Archbishop of Lyon, judge and party in the case; and it did not include the question of financial compensation.

For obscure reasons - the diocese claiming that it could not interfere with civil justice - the proceeding had been suspended for one year. It finally resumed in August 2018, this time with an independent ecclesiastical court and the possibility of paving the way for financial compensation.

The communiqué of July 4 also states that "Father Bernard Preynat's guilt having now been acknowledged by this court, the latter will now be able to devote itself more fully to studying each of the victims' claims for financial compensation."

With their lawyers, some 23 parties are seeking compensation, out of the 30 victims involved in this canonical trial.

They are calculating the amount they consider fair in terms of the moral and physical harm suffered, depending on the duration of the abuse or the therapeutic care that followed the psychological trauma.

He ruined childhoods

According to various testimonies collected by the Mediapart website, they will claim at least €10,000 per person from the Archdiocese of Lyon.

Bardiau, for his part, said he has set "the bar very high. "The money will go to four associations, La Parole libérée, Enfance et partage, Emmaüs and Les Restos du Cœur, which takes care of those for whom the Church should be there," he says.

Once the last supporting documents have been sent and the decree of completion of the investigation has been signed, it will be up to the court to examine each case.

"Priests have already been sentenced to pay reparations, but this is the first time they have been so far-reaching," said Father Nicolas de Boccard, official and ecclesiastical judge in the Archdiocese of Lyon.

The Lyon court, like the Church of France more broadly, intends to draw on the experience of the Swiss and Belgian churches to establish a compensation scale.

Who will pay?

"In the logic of things, it is the accused," Boccard's father said. "But if he is insolvent, the door is open to others who, without being guilty, consider themselves responsible for managing the case."

For victims who have not been diagnosed, however, the diocese will await the verdict of the civil justice system.

The civil trial date of Preynat is expected to be announced in the next few months, with a possible date in 2020.


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