The trial for the first cardinal ever to face prosecution in a sexual abuse case ends Thursday and will likely result in his acquittal.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, faces trial for allegedly covering up allegations of child sexual abuse against Rev. Bernard Preynat, who prosecutors claim abused more than 70 Boy Scouts in the 1970s and 1980s. The statute of limitations on some of the charges against Barbarin expired by the beginning of his trial on Jan. 7, however, and prosecutors have argued that there is no legal basis on which to convict him. (RELATED: French Cleric Becomes First Cardinal Ever To Face Trial In Sex Abuse Case)
The news comes as no surprise to the victims’ lawyers, but is a bitter disappointment to the victims themselves who, after the prosecutor’s office of Lyon dismissed an inquiry into Barbarin’s alleged cover-up in 2016, chose to summon Barbarin and six other Catholic clerics for private prosecution.
“That was no surprise,” attorney Yves Sauvayre said of the prosecutor’s argument against conviction, according to The Associated Press.
Prosecutor Charlotte Trabaut argued that the charges against Barbarin of failing to help a person in danger had passed the statute of limitations and that there was not enough proof to convict the cardinal of failing to report allegations of sexual abuse to the proper authorities. Trabaut also clarified that she “supported no one” involved in the case.
Preynat’s alleged victims chose to summon Barbarin for private prosecution, which involves directly naming the accused and openly calling for their legal condemnation, in order to pursue a chance for public justice. Even with a likely acquittal on the horizon, the victims hope that the nature of the case will stir momentum for a stronger answer to the issue of clergy sexual abuse in France.
Barbarin professed his innocent throughout the trial, saying that the accusations against him were unjust.
“I don’t see what I am guilty of,” Barbarin said.
The cardinal said that he confronted Preynat in 2010 and “asked if the rumors were true. He confirmed numerous facts, but swore to me that it hadn’t happened since 1990. I stick to what he told me.”
Barbarin also said that, after alerting Vatican officials in 2014 when an alleged victim of Preynat came forward, he “did exactly what Rome asked me to do.”
One of the alleged victims accusing both Barbarin and Preynat, Christian Burdet, said that he did not pursue prosecution out of spite and had not lost faith in God, but had lost faith in the leaders of the church.
“I believe in God, but I no longer believe in these men of the church,” Burdet said “I have the sense that many people knew … I would have liked to know why such a pervert remained so long in the church circuit.”
“I’m not here in a spirit of revenge. I’m here to express the facts, and for the men of the church to hear what I have to say,” he added.
If nothing else, the trial of Barbarin will have given the alleged victims a public voice for their pain and their calls for justice.
Though the trial ends Thursday, the presiding judge will pronounce a verdict at a later date.
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