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Cardinal Barbarin, March 18, 2019 © Vatican Media

France: Some Elements to Understand ‘the Barbarin Affair,’ by Francois Moriniere

‘A Person Who Appeals Benefits from the Presumption of Innocence’

Certain Victims’ Associations and a part of public opinion have not understood why, last Monday, March 18, 2019, Pope Francis rejected the resignation tendered by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who therefore remains Archbishop of Lyon. He was convicted for “non-denunciation” of paedophilic acts, and he appealed.

Francois Moriniere, President of “Valpre Interviews,” who has followed the affair close up, recalls the facts and explains what’s going to happen now.

He stresses that “according to French law, a person who appeals benefits from the presumption of innocence.”

* * *

–Q: Some Victims’ Associations don’t understand Pope Francis’ decision not to accept Cardinal Barbarin’s resignation. Why?

–Moriniere: Father Preynat’s victims lived appalling things a long time ago and they have decided to put everything in the public square. One can understand the need to be freed from such a burden, but Cardinal Barbarin’s trial was one of a fair fight led unfortunately against the wrong people at the wrong time. By a trial that was, in fact, diabolic, it happens that the abominable acts of Father Preynat, serial violator of children at Sainte-Foy les Lyons in the 80s, were not always judged. Another unbearable circumstance <is that> for an important number of victims of Father Preynat, the statute of limitations will prohibit them from obtaining before Justice the indisputable recognition of the infamies they suffered. Then, how <can one> not fulminate with rage? The altogether legitimate anger of the victims needs to find an outlet.  This buried pain because <it’s> inadmissible  — first of all, notably, to one’s parents — is comparable to a delayed volcanic explosion. One can say that in the biblical sense of the term, Cardinal Barbarin became the “scapegoat” of this affair.

–Q: What is the Preynat affair?

–Moriniere: In the 1980s a priest of the diocese of Lyon committed dozens of paedophilic acts with scouts of the parish he headed. In 2014, one of the victims came to tell all to the Cardinal, despite the statute of limitations. The Cardinal encouraged him in his efforts and despite this statute, this victim  <and> then others filed charges against this priest. After taking advice from the Vatican, Cardinal Barbarin removed this priest from his ministry in 2015, then this priest was charged.

An investigation was then carried out by the Prosecutor to find out the eventual complicity of the Cardinal and of other persons of the diocese of Lyon for non-denunciation of paedophilic acts. The Prosecutor closed this file in August 2016.

–Q: How was the conviction arrived at?

–Moriniere: The Cardinal, proved innocent, yet certain victims of Father Preynat initiated a rather rare process of “direct summons” that enables a victim to initiate a complaint against another person, without passing through the advice of the Prosecutor.

This procedure made it possible to “force” the prosecution of the Cardinal.

During the prosecution process, for the second time, the Prosecutor pronounced himself for the release of the Cardinal with numerous arguments. Despite this, the Judge considered that the Cardinal committed a fault and convicted him.

–Q: What’s going to happen now, at the pastoral level, in the diocese of Lyon, and at the judicial level?

–Moriniere: The Cardinal appealed as every citizen has the right to do. This appeal is based on visible enough flaws of the judgment, which did not fail to surprise many observers and jurists. This appeal is important because if the judgment is upheld, it will create an altogether unheard of jurisprudence in France. The Prosecutor joins himself to the Cardinal’s appeal because it’s a sufficiently classic posture, which makes it possible to re-judge the affair completely.

It’s very important to recall that, according to French law, a person who appeals benefits from the presumption of innocence. It’s what the Pope considered quite rightly in refusing the Cardinal’s resignation.

With wisdom, the Pope and the Cardinal considered that this affair, which has lasted for three years, and which, therefore, will be prolonged, has complicated the life of the diocese of Lyon; hence the Cardinal’s position to withdraw for some time.

Therefore, one of his Vicar Generals will administer the diocese during this period until the appeal. It’s not known when it will take place. We hope in the course of 2019.

In practice, the Cardinal will no longer say his weekly Mass in the Cathedral, and he will not preside over the offices of Holy Week, or administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, etc. He will no longer preside over all the diocese’s government organizations.

About Anita Bourdin

France. Journalist accreditated to the Holy See press office since 1995. Started Zenit in french in january 1999. Classical litterature (Paris IV-Sorbonne). Master in journalism (IJRS Bruxelles). Biblical theology (PUG, Rome).

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