Lyon abuse priest removed from clerical state as scandal heads towards civil trial

By Tom Heneghan
July 8, 2019

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon (centre) was given a civil conviction following his trial in Lyon for failing to report Preynat
Photo by Emmanuel Foudrot

Preynat received 'the maximum penalty provided by Church law' because of 'the facts and their recurrence, the large number of victims'

A Church court in France has removed from the clerical state Bernard Preynat, the former priest accused of sexual abuse by over 70 youths while they were under his supervision. Preynat’s activities are part of a major scandal that included a civil conviction for Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin for failing to report him.

Preynat, 74, received "the maximum penalty provided by Church law" because of "the facts and their recurrence, the large number of victims" and his abuse of his authority as chief and chaplain of a boy scout troop, the Lyon ecclesiatical court said on 4 July.

He "can now devote himself more fully to studying each of the victims' claims for financial compensation," it added. More than 20 of his alleged victims have filed for damages of over 10,000 euros each.

In an unusual step, the bishops’ conference promptly published the decision on its website. Preynat, who has admitted his guilt, has a month to appeal to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) if he so chooses.

Most abuse cases dated back to the 1970s and 1980s so only a few were still covered by the statute of limitations.  A civil court waited for the decision of the Church tribunal, which began in 2016, and it will now proceed with its own trial on those charges, probably early next year. 

The Preynat case has created a major scandal for the French Church, which was exacerbated by Cardinal Barbarin's delayed and evasive reactions. The prelate, 68, was convicted in March of a cover-up and forced under public pressure — including from some of his priests — to step aside from his duties.

The future for Barbarin, who is ex officio the “Primate of the Gauls”, is unclear as he appeals his six-month suspended sentence. Last month, Pope Francis appointed an apostolic administrator to run the archdiocese in the interim.  

"They were forced to come to a decision they should have made a long time ago," François Devaux, co-founder of the victims group La Parole Libéréesaid of the eccleciastical court’s decision.

It was not clear who could pay reparations if Preynat cannot raise the funds, but critics noted the French hierarchy now thought not only of its priests but also their victims. "It's quite a novelty in the French Church," said Christine Pedotti, editor of the magazine Témoignage chrétien.

Also last week, the Jesuits of France reported that 19 of their priests had been accused of sexual abuse by 28 victims since 1950. Most abuse occurred before 1980 at Jesuit schools.

Fifteen are dead and three of the four surviving priests have been convicted by civil courts. The fourth is still being investigated.

The provincial of the French Jesuits, Fr François Boëdec, has urged victims to tell their stories both to the Society of Jesus and to an independent commission on sexual abuse set up by the French bishops.

“It’s our history and we have to look it in the face,” Boëdec told the daily La Croix. “We are determined to do this work of shedding light on it.”


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