Church sexual abuse: Trial of French priest Bernard Preynat set to begin

Bernard Preynat
Bernard Preynat has already admitted abusing boys over two decades

The trial of a former French priest accused of sexually abusing dozens of Boy Scouts in the 1980s and 1990s is set to begin in France on Tuesday.

Bernard Preynat, 74, is alleged to have assaulted more than 80 individuals and faces ten years in prison if convicted.

His trial was scheduled to start on Monday, but was delayed because of a lawyers’ strike over pension reforms.

Ten of his accusers, all aged between seven and 15 at the time of the alleged abuse, are expected to give evidence.

Also linked to the case is Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was found guilty last March of failing to report the allegations against Preynat.

Barbarin is the highest-profile cleric within the Catholic Church in France to face trial over the child sexual abuse scandal.

The trial is expected to last at least four days.

It was postponed for 24 hours at the request of lawyers who wanted to participate in a protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed shake-up of France’s pension system.

What are the charges against the priest?

Bernard Preynat is charged with sexually assaulting Boy Scouts between 1971 and 1991, when he served as scout chaplain in the Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon region of eastern France.

Dozens of men say he sexually assaulted them as children. In their previous accounts, they alleged that Preynat repeatedly touched them inappropriately and occasionally kissed them on the lips.

Preynat has already admitted abusing boys over two decades, but some of his alleged victims have also accused church authorities of covering up allegations when they were first reported, allowing him to remain in contact with children.

Appearing briefly at the court in Lyon on Monday, Preynat said he was aware of the suffering he had already caused, and that he wanted the trial to “take place as quickly as possible”.

Last July, Preynat was defrocked – stripped of his clerical status – after a church tribunal ruled he had committed “criminal acts of sexual character against minors under [the age of] 16”.

His lawyer earlier said that despite his client’s confession, the statute of limitations relating to any charges had expired, which precluded his prosecution.

But officials argued that some offences could still be prosecuted and a criminal case was opened.

What about the alleged cover-up?

Cardinal Barbarin, who was the archbishop of Lyon and France’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric before he stepped aside last year, was found guilty of failing to report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities after confronting Preynat about rumours as far back as 2010.

He was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence in March 2019, but appealed the verdict.

After his offer to resign was rejected at the time by Pope Francis on “the presumption of innocence”, Barbarin said he would stand aside “for a while” pending his appeal.

Barbarin admitted he had known of “rumours” as far back as 2010, but that he only became aware of the alleged abuse after a conversation with one of the victims in 2014.

He later informed the Vatican of the allegations, and removed Preynat from his position – but never informed police.

The allegations then became public in 2015.

During his trial last March, he told the court: “I cannot see what I am guilty of. I never tried to hide, let alone cover up these horrible facts.”

The result of his appeal is scheduled for 30 January.

Other Vatican officials are accused of failing to report abuse allegations to the police, including Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, who will not appear at the trial because he has immunity under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome.

The abuse scandal in France became the subject of the film By the Grace of God, which was cleared for release in the country last February following a legal challenge by Preynat’s lawyers, who argued it could prejudice the trial.


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