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French cardinal given 6-month suspended sentence for abuse coverup

By Nicholas Sakelaris
French cardinal given 6-month suspended sentence for abuse coverup
French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin received a six-month suspended sentence Thursday for covering up sexual abuse. Photo by Guido Montani/EPA-EFE

March 7 (UPI) -- A senior French cardinal in the Catholic Church was found guilty Thursday of failing to report abuse of a minor and received a six-month suspended prison sentence.

Archbishop of Lyon Philippe Barbarin, once considered as a possible future pope, is the highest-profile leader to be caught up in the sex scandal that's dogged the church for years.

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Barbarin, 68, denies wrongdoing, saying he learned of an abusive priest in 2014 from a victim who confided in him.

"I cannot see what I am guilty of," Barbarin told the court. "I never tried to hide, let alone cover up these horrible facts."

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The cardinal's remarks seem to conflict with what he told La Croix newspaper two years ago, an interview that indicates he knew about the priest's crimes a decade earlier but didn't report it because no victims had come forward.

Last month, Pope Francis announced an "all-out battle" to tackle every single case of abuse by priests.

Father Bernard Preynat has admitted to sexually abusing underage boys in the 1980s and 1990s. Victims said Barbarin knew what was happening in those cases because Preynat was ultimately reassigned to a different church. Barbarin also waited for months in 2015 to follow a Vatican order to remove Preynat from all duties that put him in contact with children.

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Barbarin said he was slow to act to keep things quiet and avoid a public scandal. He plans to appeal his conviction.

"The reasoning of the court is not convincing," attorney Jean-Felix Luciani said.

Francois Devaux, a victim advocacy group in Lyon, said Thursday's verdict is a "major victory for child protection."

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Preynat was charged with sex abuse in 2016 and will stand trial later this year.

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