The archbishop of Lyon, an outspoken advocate of conservative doctrines, covered up child sexual abuse cases dating back to the 1970s.
France's Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, one of the most conservative and powerful priests in the Catholic Church, resigned Thursday after being convicted for hiding cases of pedophilia in the Diocese of Lyon. His sentence was mostly symbolic.
"In trying to avoid scandal (...), the Cardinal preferred to take the risk of preventing the discovery by justice of many sexual abuse victims," the judges said believing the cardinal was aware of sexual abuses perpetrated by Father Bernard Preynat, who was a chaplain of the "scout" camps in the 1970s and 1980s.
The sentence is a victory in the defense of children's rights according to "The Freed Word" (La Parole Libérée), a NGO created to gather legally usable information in support of the Saint Luc Victims, who were children abused by a priest who committed acts of pedophilia from 1970 to 1991.
The cardinal was sentenced to pay one euro to the victims and six months in jail, a sentence to which he is not required to comply.
"It is the end of a tough battle. We never stopped believing that we would get this sentence," Francois Devaux, The Freed Word's president, said and celebrated the success of a legal dispute which was carried out "against everything and against everybody," particularly against the Prosecutor's Office of Lyon, which he accused of obstructing the legal process.
Although this is not the first sentence against an accessory to French priests' sexual crimes, the dimension of Cardinal Barbarin increased the importance of the case.
Pope John Paul II supported Barbarin in his career towards one of the most traditional archbishoprics in France. From there, the Cardinal attacked homosexual marriage, condom use, and women's sexual and reproductive rights, among other things.
The French media increased his public profile when, in the midst of the battle against gay marriage, Cardinal Barbarin said "later they will ask for marriages among three or four people; then maybe the incest prohibition will fall."
"Prosecutors and the Church have not yet fully understood that this is a moral process," Devaux said, adding that this verdict "will open new paths, reactivate new complaints and provoke changes in the Judiciary's ways of acting."
Despite this victory against impunity, Devaux reminded people that the French judges did not include on the condemned list the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Spanish Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, who recommended Barbarin "to avoid all scandal public" in his management of the Preynat case, according to the evidence provided by a document found by the French justice.
Also The Freed Word president stressed that the Vatican protected Cardinal Barbarin with diplomatic immunity, which showed that the Catholic church superior hierarchy does not cooperate adequately in the resolution of sexual abuse cases.