Cardinal Philippe Barbarin meets Pope Francis yesterday. ABACA
cardinal barbarin

Pope rejects resignation of French cardinal convicted of sex abuse cover-up

France’s highest-ranking Catholic official failed to report sex abuse by a priest.

LAST UPDATE | Mar 19th 2019, 4:14 PM

POPE FRANCIS HAS rejected the resignation of a French cardinal convicted of a sex abuse cover-up. 

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, France’s highest-ranking Catholic official, received a six-month suspended jail sentence for failing to report sex abuse by a priest under his authority.

Barbarin, 68, is the most senior French cleric caught up in the global paedophilia scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church. He has been a cardinal since 2003.

He said after his 7 March conviction that he would travel to Rome to tender his resignation.

That meeting took place yesterday and it had been expected it could take several weeks for the Pope to decide whether to accept the resignation.

“Monday morning, I handed over my mission to the Holy Father. He spoke of the presumption of innocence and did not accept this resignation,” Barbarin, who has appealed his sentence, said in a statement.

If accepted, Barbarin would have become “bishop emeritus” of the southeastern French city of Lyon but remained cardinal. 

Barbarin has said he would remain in Lyon pending his appeal. However, he added that he would step back from his job “for a little while”. This would allow, at the Pope’s “suggestion”, the local vicar general Yves Baumgarten to run day-to-day affairs. 

‘Unheard of’

The Pope’s decision has triggered sharp surprise from the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference of France, who called the situation “unheard of”. 

“I did not expect this scenario which falls between the two most expected,” Georges Pontier told AFP. 

He added that this “unheard of” situation resulted from the difficulty of “respecting the judicial process” along with the need to “look after the Lyon diocese”.

On 7 March, a Lyon court ruled that Barbarin was guilty of failing to report allegations of abuse of boy scouts committed by a priest, Bernard Preynat, in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Pope had previously defended the cardinal, saying in 2016 that his resignation before a trial would be “an error, imprudent”.

Barbarin’s lawyer has announced plans to fight the guilty ruling, which was hailed by abuse victims as ushering in a new period of accountability in the French Church.

This case comes as the Pope has been seeing to restore faith in the Catholic Church following a slew of abuse scandals across the world, including in Australia, Chile and the United States. 

- Includes reporting from Hayley Halpin and © AFP, 2019

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