THIS week saw the start of a high-profile trial in France of six people accused of covering up clerical sexual abuse. But a seventh – Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer – is not among the defendants because the Vatican last year played the diplomatic immunity card and refused to hand the cardinal a summons issued by a French court.
Lawyers wanted Ferrer, above, in the dock alongside Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, 68, and the other accused of covering up the crimes of an abusive priest, Father Bernard Preynat, who allegedly abused scores boy scouts – as many as 40.
They argued that Ferrer had advised the Diocese of Lyon not to involve the French justice system in the case.
It’s quite understandable why Ferrer is being protected. He is a Vatican high muckety-muck. In 2017 he became Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – formerly the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition – and 2018 Pope Francis made him a cardinal named him the Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Ignazio Loyola in Campo Marzio.
In 2010 a British barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC argued that the Vatican isn’t deserving of diplomatic recognition, that its claims to statehood are risible, and that it uses its status as a state to take refuge from international law and to cover up clerical sex abuse crimes.
According to Catholic website Crux, the case was brought to court by nine people who said Preynat abused them in the 1970s and 1980s. The victims say top clergy were aware of Preynat’s actions for years, but allowed him to be in contact with children until his 2015 retirement.After the judge had read out the lengthy accusations, Barbarin, above, took the stand to maintain his innocence. He said he had encouraged one of the alleged victims to get in contact with other victims and “thanks to that” evidence against Preynat was able to be built.
If found guilty of failing to report the priest’s actions, the defendants could face up to three years in prison and a $51,300 fine. Barbarin and some other defendants are also charged with failing to assist a person in peril.
The priest Preynat, now in his 70s, wrote letters to some families confessing the abuse, and is to be tried separately on sexual violence charges involving several children.
One of his alleged victims, Alexandre Hezez, hailed the trial as an effort to “move justice forward.” Hezez, 44, spoke to the cardinal directly about Preynat and is among those who brought the case to trial.
Barbarin sought counsel on how to handle abuse accusations against Preynat from the Vatican official, Luis Ladaria Ferrer, who recommended disciplinary measures while “avoiding a public scandal.”
Numerous child sex abuse claims have been made against Catholic clergy in France since the 1990s, but there hasn’t been a huge wave like those seen in the US, Ireland or some other countries.
Barbarin is the highest-level French church figure accused of covering up abuse, and is among the most powerful figures in the Catholic Church, one of some 200 cardinals worldwide and archbishop of Lyon since 2002.
Multiple cardinals have been accused in recent years of shielding abusers or committing abuse themselves, from Pennsylvania to Australia to Chile.