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French probe into cardinal abuse cover-up dismissed

Accusations against Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, one of France’s most powerful Catholic leaders, have shaken the Church © AFP/File / Jeff Pachoud

Lyon, France, Aug 1 – A French prosecutor on Monday dismissed a probe into allegations that Cardinal Philippe Barbarin covered up the sexual abuse of Scouts, in a case which shook the country’s Catholic Church.

Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon in central France since 2002, had been accused of failing to remove a priest from his diocese when he became aware the man had sexually abused young boys 25 years ago.

At the end of a preliminary investigation in March, prosecutor Marc Cimamonti had said the accusation that Barbarin had covered up the abuse had not been proven.

Barbarin has said he learnt in 2007 that the priest, Bernard Preynat, had been accused of sexually abusing Scouts in the past.

Preynat was only charged in January after a victim who was allegedly abused in the 1980s realised in 2015 that the priest was still in service. Several other victims have also come forward.

Barbarin has said that when he learnt of the priest’s past he immediately called a meeting with him. When he asked Preynat if he had committed further abuses since 1991 the priest swore he had not.

“You can reproach me for having believed him… but covering up means knowing and letting it happen,” Barbarin said, adding he had “absolutely never” done that.

Barbarin said Monday that he “welcomed” the decision by prosecutors and praised the work of survivors in advancing the battle against sexual abuse.

“I hope this is an end to the matter and the the diocese can work together with the victims who have never been considered adversaries,” said Jean-Felix Luciani, a lawyer for Barbarin.

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– ‘Trample his honour’ –

Profile of French cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who is accused of covering up the sexual abuse of young boys by a Catholic priest © AFP / Laurence SAUBADU, Paul DEFOSSEUX

“They said terrible things about a man, even if he was a cardinal, we should be careful not to trample his honour.”

Prosecutors say Preynat — who was removed from service in 2015 — has admitted the charges.

When complaints were first made against him in the 1980s, he was merely suspended for a few months.

The victims filed complaints against several senior diocesan officials, including Barbarin, accusing them of failing to report the priest or remove him from duty despite being aware of his past.

Barbarin has admitted to “errors in the management and nomination of certain priests”.

After the scandal erupted, he in June relieved four priests of their functions over sexual abuse allegations.

The scandal was the worst to hit the Catholic Church in France since 2001, when a bishop was given a three-month suspended jail sentence for failing to inform authorities about a paedophile priest.

“What I am interested in is the societal debate. How long will French citizens accept that paedophile priests come into contact with children?” said Francois Devaux, one of the plaintiffs.

Barbarin has also been accused of covering up the abuse of a second Lyon priest in a separate case.

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