Lyon Archbishop Cardinal Philippe Barbarin said his last mass at Saint Jean Cathedral on Sunday morning after being at the center of a storm for failing to report the actions of one of his priests.
The cleric had been brought down in a scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in France starting in 2019 after ex-priest Bernard Preynat was the subject of multiple accusations of sexual abuse.
Cardinal Barbarin was the highest-profile cleric within the Catholic Church in France to face trial over the scandal. He has served for 17 years as Archbishop of Lyon.
Preynat, 74, stood trial in January for abusing dozens of young boys between 1971 and 1991 when he served as Boy Scout chaplain in the Sainte-Foy-les-Lyon region of eastern France. The boys were all between the ages of seven and 15 when the abuse occurred at the weekend camps organized by Preynat.
He was found guilty on March 16 and sentenced to five years in prison for his crimes. A Catholic tribunal had already defrocked him in July 2019.
Those who accused Preynat also charged the church leadership — of which Barbarin was a part — with covering up his acts, thereby allowing Preynat to remain in his position.
After learning about the transgressions from an accuser in 2014 and hearing even earlier rumors in 2010, Barbarin reported it to the Vatican. He did not, however, take the allegations to the local police.
In March of 2019, Barbarin was charged with covering up Preynat’s conduct and offered his resignation to Pope Francis in light of the increasing pressure.
The Pope, however, wanted to follow the appeals process to the end. Barbarin ended up being given a six-month suspended prison sentence. During his appeal trial in November 2019, the Cardinal pleaded his innocence, suggesting that there was nothing more he could have done having followed Vatican instructions to the letter.
During Sunday’s mass, protesters gathered outside on the cathedral steps.
“I find it absolutely scandalous that we do a ceremony for Cardinal Barbarin,” said one local Lyonnais protester. “It is ignoble.”
Barbarin will now take up residence in Rennes, where he will assume the title of chaplain, a lesser role where he will work alongside official clergy members.
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