Bishop-Priest Confidentiality Now Jeopardized in France

Prelate Won´t Appeal Conviction Related to Pedophilia Case

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PARIS, SEPT. 7, 2001 ( A bishop accusing of not denouncing a pedophilia priest has decided not to appeal his own three-month suspended sentence. But the case is raising fears about the confidentiality of priest-bishop relations.

The Caen Correctional Court this week had denied the right of confidentiality when it convicted Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux and sentenced him to the suspended jail term.

Bishop Pican, 67, was accused of not reporting Father Rene Bissey to justice for acts of pedophilia. The priest drew an 18-year prison term last October.

The bishop said he didn´t report Father Bissey to the authorities when the latter approached him in December 1996, because «the priest was on the verge of suicide.»

The bishop told the court that he preferred to remove the priest from the parish and send him to a clinic, rather than to report him to the police.

The Caen court´s conviction of the bishop came in spite of an 1891 law which guarantees French clergy full right to professional secrecy on «all information gathered in the exercise of the ministry.»

The judges, however, accepted the prosecution´s argument which gave priority to a recent article of the Penal Code. That article provides for a sentence of up to three years in prison for anyone who does not report to authorities any privations, mistreatment or sexual abuses committed against minors 15 or younger.

Bishop Pican explained in a statement that, «after reflecting for some time,» he has decided not to appeal, in order to express his «desire to relax the situation, and not reopen wounds with a new trial.»

Yet, he said the verdict against him implies «casting, at least partial doubt, on the admitted and constantly reaffirmed jurisprudence» on professional secrecy.

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