PARIS — A French cardinal said he would offer his resignation after a French judge convicted him on Thursday of failing to inform local authorities of accusations that a priest in his diocese had sexually abused children.
The case of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin represented the latest in a series of abuse scandals involving high-ranking Catholic Church officials who either covered up allegations of abuse by priests or carried out abuse themselves. The French court’s decision comes two weeks after Pope Francis hosted bishops from around the world for a summit on clerical abuse.
As the archbishop of Lyon, Barbarin is the most senior French clergy member to be implicated in the church’s global crisis. The case has captured attention across Europe, and it inspired a film, “By the Grace of God,” which won second prize at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival last month.
Barbarin, 68, was found guilty of failing to report allegations against the Rev. Bernard Preynat, who has confessed to abusing Boy Scouts in the 1970s and 1980s and will be tried separately.
Preynat’s alleged victims say the church hierarchy protected him for decades after the first complaint in 1991. Church officials removed him from his role with the Boy Scouts and transferred him to a different parish, but they allowed him to remain in contact with children until his retirement in 2015.
The French statute of limitations had expired on some of the charges, so Barbarin’s conviction came as something of a surprise to those closely following the case.
Barbarin, who had faced up to three years in prison and a fine of more than $50,000, was given a six-month suspended sentence. He said he would meet with Pope Francis to offer his resignation “in a few days.” His lawyers said he would appeal the court ruling.
Five other defendants in the case were acquitted.
The church’s top official for sex abuse cases, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, was also named in the case, but the Vatican claimed diplomatic immunity.
The victims’ group that pushed the case celebrated Thursday’s verdict. “We see that no one is above the law,” said François Devaux, president of La Parole Libérée. “We have been heard by the court. This is the end of a long path,” he told the Associated Press.
The Bishops’ Conference of France said it would not comment until the appeals process had been exhausted. Pope Francis earlier called Barbarin “brave.”
Among the other recent high-profile church abuse cases: American former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was defrocked last month after the Vatican found him guilty of abusing children and adults, and Cardinal George Pell is awaiting sentencing after an Australian court convicted him of abusing two choirboys.