Pope Francis and Philippe Barbarin © Vatican Media (KNA)
After two court cases, countless media articles and a time-out, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin may resign. This is what Pope Francis has now decided. The end of a long, painful affair for the church in Lyon.
"Truly following Jesus, in a servant, fraternal and missionary Church" – This motto tweeted Cardinal Philippe Barbarin at noon Friday after learning that Pope Francis had accepted his resignation. It is the end of a long odyssey.
It took its course in 2016, when the case Barbarin moved into the media spotlight. That's when the Archbishop of Lyon was first investigated for failing to report sexual assaults committed by Bernard Preynat, a priest who has since been defrocked. But the prosecutor's office dropped the case after a few months; there had been no evidence of a crime by Barbarin.
Barbarin on the witness stand
Then in January 2019, the second trial. Several victims testified. Barbarin also spoke for a long time on the witness stand. He protested his innocence several times. "Honestly, I don't see what I'm guilty of," he said during the trial. He did not suspect that he would have to turn to the judiciary, "since the cases were time-barred and the victim himself confirmed that he could not change anything".
On 30. January, Lyon appeals court acquitted Barbarin of charges of failing to report sexual assaults. The prosecutor based his decision on doubts: convicting the cardinal would have been too "broad an interpretation" of the law, it said.
It all began in the 1980s. At the time, Preynat, now a 75-year-old priest in charge of scouts in Lyon's Sainte-Foy district, allegedly abused several underage scouts. The Barbarin trial dealt with the question of when the archbishop learned about it.
In an interview with "Le Point" in February, Barbarin said he had "lacked courage and determination" in the face of abuser Preynat. "I always thought – wrongly – that my predecessors had solved all this already."Barbarin also complains in retrospect that the extent of the abuse cases in the archdiocese became clear to him too late. "It was only towards the end of 2014 that I became brutally aware of what these acts meant in concrete terms – the suffering of the victims."
"Errors in the exercise of ministry"
Speaking to the news magazine, the cardinal candidly admits to "mistakes in the exercise of his office". But he also speaks of a "media tsunami" that he has experienced in the past four years.
At least, however, the "attacks" on him "also led to something positive," namely a "general awakening" on the ie of abuse.
In July 2019, Preynat was dismissed from the clergy by a church court. In his own abuse trial, pending in Lyon since January, the prosecutor has demanded eight years in prison. The verdict is due at the end of March.
Even if Barbarin was acquitted, he still wanted to resign. In an interview with "Le Point" in mid-February, he said he could not imagine another future at the head of the Archdiocese of Lyon. He sees his future as a pilgrimage priest, as a preacher at spiritual retreats or as a pastor in Madagascar, where he already worked as a priest in the 90s. He wants to place his office as archbishop once again in the hands of the pope to open a new chapter for the church of Lyon, explained Barbarin.
Pope now accepts resignation
Already after the verdict in the second trial, Barbarin had disappeared from the scene. The now 69-year-old initially put Vicar General Yves Baumgarten in charge of the Lyon archdiocese before Pope Francis appointed former Evry-Corbeille-Essonnes Bishop Michel Dubost, 77, on an interim basis. Pope Francis did not initially accept Barbarin's resignation: Since the appeal process had not yet been completed, the presumption of innocence applied. On Friday, Francis now made a new decision.
The president of the French Bishops' Conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, thanked Barbarin for his service on Friday. With him, the bishops hoped that the outcome of the proceedings would contribute to the healing of the victims, to whom they wanted to express once again their deep sorrow for what they may have suffered, the statement said.