Bishop Sentenced for Hiding Priest´s Sexual Abuse

French Court Rules Out a Right to Professional Secrecy

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PARIS, SEPT. 4, 2001 ( A court today sentenced Bishop Pierre Pican of the Bayeux-Lisieux Diocese to a three-month suspended jail term for failing to publicly denounce a priest who had sexually abused children.

At the end of the court´s session, defense attorney Thierry Massis said that the sentence implies «a reduction in the realm of professional secrecy.»

«This is the first time a bishop is condemned since the French Revolution,» the lawyer said. He added: «No boy presented in the civil hearing of the trial suffered any consequence because of Bishop Pican´s silence.»

Bishop Pican, 66, had faced up to three years in prison. He must also compensate three families and one victim with 1 franc each. His attorney did not yet say if the sentence would be appealed.

According to Jean Chevais, lawyer for the families involved, this decision spells «an evolution in the notion of professional secrecy, but it does not affect the secrecy of confession.»

The sentence states that the bishop «abstained from denouncing» the acts of Father Rene Bissey, a priest of his diocese, «something that constitutes an exceptional alteration of public order, as it is concerned with the protection of children.»

According to the court, «Conscientious objection derived from professional secrecy could not be applied» in this case.

Bishop Pican was accused of not alerting the judicial system of the child sexual abuse commited by Father Bissey. The priest was sentenced last October to 18 years in prison by the Calvados Upper Court.

The bishop´s attorneys had contended that the confidences shared by the priest with his ordinary were sketchy, and did not justify a serious denunciation before the courts.

During the trial, Bishop Pican acknowledged that he underestimated the seriousness of the priest´s acts.

When the bishop first heard the accusations against Father Bissey in December 1996, «the priest was on the verge of suicide,» he said. The bishop said he believed it was more important to help the priest first, rather than denounce him to the police. So he removed the priest from his parish and sent him to a clinic.

The bishop´s attorneys said the priest did not commit any more sexual abuse after the bishop became aware of the case.

Father Stanislas Lalanne, spokesman of the French bishops´ conference, told Vatican Radio that the court´s decision punished the bishop for what was a difficult judgment to make at the time.

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