Prosecutor Says Secrecy of Confession Is No Excuse

Wants Bishop Imprisoned for Failing to Denounce Pedophile

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PARIS, JUNE 17, 2001 ( A prosecutor wants a bishop sentenced to jail, saying that the secrecy of confession is no excuse for the latter´s failure to publicly denounce a pedophile priest.

Public prosecutor Jacques-Philippe Segondat asked a court to sentence Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux to four to six months imprisonment with conditional liberty for not having denounced a priest of his northern France diocese. The priest received an 18-year prison sentence for pedophilia.

The prosecutor asked the court not to recognize the bishop´s right to keep secret what he learned in the sacrament of confession. The bishop cited the seal of confession as the reason for not reporting the priest.

Bishop Pican´s position was supported by Cardinal Louis-Marie Billé, president of the French episcopal conference, who also supported the prelate in a hearing. The court will make its decision Sept. 4.

On Saturday, the episcopal conference, which said it is confident of an acquittal, expressed surprise over the prosecutor´s request for a prison sentence.

During the hearings, Bishop Pican admitted that he was in error in evaluating the gravity of the priest´s acts. He also said the case enabled him to know better the tragic consequences of pedophilia.

“I will do what is possible to establish a personal relation with those families” of the victims, he said.

Father Stanislas Lalanne, spokesman for the bishops´ conference, said over Vatican Radio that he believes this case highlights an important principle, “freedom of conscience.”

Father Lalanne explained that when the bishop became aware of the accusations in December 1996, “the priest was on the verge of suicide.”

This is why the bishop thought that, before denouncing the priest to the police, it was more important to offer him help, removing him from his parish and sending him to a clinic.

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