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Pope Francis Refuses Resignation of Cardinal Convicted of Covering Up Sex Abuse .
Pope Francis declined to accept the resignation of a French cardinal convicted of covering up sexual abuse, the Vatican said on Tuesday, a decision that drew fire from victims and their advocates in France and abroad.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon had offered to step down in a private meeting with the pontiff. The cardinal issued a statement similar to the Vatican’s on Tuesday, adding that the pope had cited the “presumption of [the cardinal’s] innocence” in declining to accept his resignation.
Cardinal Barbarin became the highest-ranking Catholic Church official ever to be convicted of covering up sexual abuse, in the latest chapter of the church’s long-running abuse scandal.
The Vatican said the pope had left the cardinal “free to make the best decision” for the Lyon archdiocese, which has about 1.2 million Catholics. It said the cardinal had decided to take leave of his duties “for a period of time,” and entrust the leadership of the archdiocese to his vicar general, the Rev. Yves Baumgarten.
The cardinal said his decision to go on leave had been at the suggestion of the pope.
Cardinal Barbarin, 68 years old, was convicted in a French court on March 7 of failing to report child sex abuse by a priest under his authority and received a suspended six-month jail sentence. The cardinal, who denies wrongdoing, is appealing the conviction.
The Rev. Bernard Preynat, a priest in the Lyon archdiocese from 1971 to 2015, allegedly raped or sexually assaulted at least several dozen boys during the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s. He has admitted wrongdoing and is still under investigation.
In 2016, Pope Francis publicly supported the cardinal, telling French Catholic newspaper La Croix that it would be a “mistake, an imprudence” and an “admission of guilt” for him to resign before the judicial process reached a conclusion.
In the La Croix interview, the pope appeared to approve the cardinal’s handling of the abusive priest. “Based on the information I have, I think in Lyon, Cardinal Barbarin has taken the necessary measures and has taken things well in hand,” he said.
Alleged victims of the abusive priest who was under the cardinal’s supervision lamented the pope’s decision.
“It seemed impossible that the pope could make such a mistake. It’s unbelievable,” said François Devaux, who says he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by the priest during church camps as a child. “It just shows that the Church itself is the problem, and that we were right.” in an interview
Pope Francis has drawn criticism for his support of other bishops accused of abuse, coverup or other misconduct. In January 2018, the pope sparked outrage by saying abuse victims who had accused a Chilean bishop of covering up abuse by another priest were guilty of “calumny.” He later acknowledged having made grave errors in the case because he had been misinformed. He accepted the bishop’s resignation.
In August, a former Vatican envoy to the U.S. accused Pope Francis of having ignored reports of sexual misconduct with adults by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington. The pope declined to respond to the accusations. In February, Mr. McCarrick became the first cardinal in modern times to be dismissed from the priesthood, after a church trial found him guilty of sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct with adults.
In October, the pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, following criticism of the cardinal’s handling of clerical abuse cases during his tenure as bishop of Pittsburgh, but he praised the cardinal’s leadership and left him in place as the administrator of his diocese.
It was only after an Australian court announced in February that Cardinal George Pell had been convicted of molesting two choirboys in the 1990s that the Vatican said the cardinal was no longer the Vatican’s finance chief. The pope had allowed him to take a leave of absence to return to his native country to face the charges there.
Cardinal Pell denies wrongdoing and is appealing the verdict. The Vatican has announced a preliminary investigation under church law that could lead to his dismissal from the priesthood.
The Barbarin case shows the increasing pressure on Catholic hierarchy from secular authorities pursuing cases of clerical sex abuse and its coverup around the world. Abuse victims and their advocates, dismayed by what they say are the church’s failures to punish abusers and those who cover up for them, have increasingly looked to prosecutors and legislators for action.
On Wednesday, the attorney general of West Virginia sued the Catholic diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and one of its former bishops, charging that they had knowingly employed pedophiles at Catholic schools and camps.