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PRESS RELEASE IAFT: French Cardinal Fails to Report Abusive Priests

Wednesday 9 March 2016

French Cardinal fails to report abusive priests to police, despite French law requirement—and Vatican position increasingly laissez faire

A French judge is investigating the “failure to report a crime” after the alleged victims of priest Bernard Preynat said top officials in the Catholic diocese of Lyon, including its Archbishop Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, had failed to report the priest to the police, as required under French law. It had known about the alleged crimes since 1991. The priest has admitted he sexually abused young Scouts in 1986-1991 in the group he had run for twenty years.

According to AFP, the Vatican had earlier given the cardinal its backing, saying it had confidence he would deal with the matter “with great responsibility.” A source close to the cardinal said “This comment does not in any way target Cardinal Barbarin who quite rightly suspended Father Preynat after meeting a first victim and taking advice from Rome, and this, even before a first official complaint was made.”

The Executive Director of the (UK) National Secular Society, and a spokesperson of the International Association of Freethinkers, who has studied clerical abuse for many years and given evidence at the United Nations, commented:

“I call on the investigating judge to make an example of the diocese and prosecute both the alleged perpetrator and those who believe they can flout the law with impunity.

“The Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Protection of Minors reiterated in mid-February that bishops had an obligation to ‘signal cases of sexual abuse to civil authorities’, but every announcement by the Pope on this is weaker than the one before. Last year the Pope announced a Church Tribunal (rather than law enforcement) to deal with such bishops, but this Tribunal has never met. On his recent return from Mexico, the Pope declared, even more weakly, that such bishops should resign—not even saying he would force them to do so.1 The implicit support for Barbarin suggests that even pretensions that bishops should follow the law has been abandoned.

“French clerics seem to be leading the resistance to reporting abuse to civil authorities, thereby allowing abusers to escape jail and helping the abuse to continue unchecked. The Pontifical Commission’s reiteration, referred to above, followed the discovery that at an induction course for new bishops at the Vatican, French Monsignor Tony Attrella told the bishops that they were not obliged to report abuse to state authorities. In 2014 the United Nations castigated2 the Vatican for a Cardinal congratulating a French bishop for defying the law by refusing to report child abuse.”

In most countries, such reporting is not mandatory, although the United Nations has recommended its introduction, for example in Ireland.


  1. Pennsylvania Diocese Leaders Knew of Sex Abuse for Decades, Grand Jury Says, New York Times, 2016-03-01.
  2. Concluding observations on the second periodic report of the Holy See, page 10, paragraph 43(d)

For more information contact

Keith Porteous Wood
Executive Director, (UK) National Secular Society
+44 20 8997 8371 and +44 7810 224380

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