, VATICAN CITY, Holy See, May 20 – Pope Francis met Friday with Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the under-fire Archbishop of Lyon suspected of covering up for a paedophile priest in a scandal that has rocked the Church in France.
“There was a meeting, nothing out of the ordinary,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told AFP, without revealing the purpose or content of the talks.
- According to the diocese, Barbarin first received testimony from an alleged victim in mid-2014 and relieved Preynat of his duties in May 2015.
- Francis said in an interview with French Catholic newspaper La Croix this week that he believed Barbarin had acted appropriately.
The surprise meeting came three days after the pope was quoted as saying it would be “nonsensical and imprudent” to seek Barbarin’s resignation at this stage, arguing that would be to imply he was guilty of potential criminal charges against him.
French examining magistrates are currently carrying out a preliminary investigation to decide whether to pursue charges against the archbishop for his handling of the allegations against Bernard Preynat, a priest in his diocese who has been charged with sex abuse.
Preynat was charged in January with sexual assaults on four boy scouts between 1986 and 1991. An abuse survivors group says it has identified more than 50 victims.
Lyon prosecutors in March opened a preliminary probe into when Barbarin and his staff became aware of the allegations against Preynat and whether they failed to comply with legal requirements to pass on knowledge of a crime to the police.
According to the diocese, Barbarin first received testimony from an alleged victim in mid-2014 and relieved Preynat of his duties in May 2015.
Francis said in an interview with French Catholic newspaper La Croix this week that he believed Barbarin had acted appropriately.
The pontiff said Barbarin had “taken the necessary measures, and had the situation in hand.
“He is brave, creative, a missionary. We should now wait for the outcome of the civilian judicial procedure.”
Victims groups reacted angrily to the expression of support, saying Francis could not possibly know all the details of a case they say highlights once again the reluctance of the Church to hand paedophile priests over to criminal authorities.