French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, began trial on Monday on charges of failing to report allegations that a priest in his diocese abused minor boy scouts from 1986-1991.
Barbarin and five other archdiocesan officials are all on trial in a case involving Fr. Bernard Preynat, who has been accused of abusing dozens of minors in the 1980s and early ‘90s.
If convicted, Barbarin could face three years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000, Reuters reports.
In 2017, the cardinal told Le Monde that he did not conceal allegations against Preynat, but said that his response to the allegations had been “inadequate.” He said he opened an investigation against Preynat after becoming aware of the allegations against him.
Allegations against Preynat became public in 2015. Prosecutors dropped the case the following year after an initial investigation, but a victims group with more than 80 members saying they were abused by Preynat led to a reopening of the case, the Guardian reports.
Preynat was banned from leading boy scout groups in the early 1990s, but remained in ministry until being removed by Cardinal Barbarin in 2015.
The priest has acknowledged abusing minors, according to the Guardian, and will face trial later this year.
Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was also ordered to testify in the case. In October, the Vatican invoked diplomatic immunity in refusing to deliver a French court summons to Ladaria, saying that as a minister of Vatican City State, he is protected under international law.
The court summons had involved a letter Ladaria sent to Barbarin, advising him to take disciplinary action against Preynat, “while avoiding public scandal.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyers wanted Ladaria to testify as to whether the direction to prevent scandal was intended as an injunction to avoid going to court, in which case they accuse the CDF prefect of being complicit in failing to report the allegedly abusive priest to authorities.
Barbarin’s trial comes as revelations of clerical sex abuse and cover up continue to send shock waves through the Catholic Church. The United States, Ireland, Australia, Chile, Argentina and Germany are among the countries that have seen recent abuse scandals uncovered.
Next month, Pope Francis will meet with the heads of national bishops’ conferences from around the world to discuss the prevention of sexual abuse of minors.