LYON (AFP) – A French court was yesterday set to deliver its verdict in the case of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, accused of covering up sexual abuse of minors by one of his priests.
The 68-year-old archbishop and five former aides went on trial in Lyon at a time when the Catholic Church has been hit by abuse scandals in countries as far afield as Australia, Chile and the United States (US).
The outcome of the trial, which began in January, has been long awaited in France where Barbarin is the highest-profile Catholic cleric to be caught up in a paedophile scandal.
The accused faces up to three years in jail and USD50,800 fines if found guilty.
“I cannot see what I am guilty of,” Barbarin told the court. “I never tried to hide, let alone cover up these horrible facts.”
The case broke three years ago and lawyers for nine adult plaintiffs – former boy scouts allegedly abused by priest Bernard Preynat – took legal action.
Since the abuse relates to acts committed before 1991, prosecutors had declined to press charges because of the statute of limitations.
The trial went ahead only because the plaintiffs bypassed the prosecutor’s office and insisted, as they are entitled, on putting their case before a court.
Under French law, the court can still convict and even jail the suspect, regardless of the prosecutor’s position.