PARIS (AP) — French investigators questioned a prominent cardinal Wednesday about alleged failures to report on suspected pedophilia by a priest under his watch, in the highest-profile church abuse investigation in France to date.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin has been under pressure for months since he was named in two investigations of accusations of sexual abuse of children by priests.
Barbarin, one of the highest-ranking figures in the French Catholic Church, is among several church officials accused of failing to report pedophile priests to judicial authorities. He has denied covering up abuse, but acknowledged some mistakes in handling and appointing priests.
Barbarin’s lawyer, Andre Soulier, said the cardinal is being questioned Wednesday in Lyon as part of normal proceedings. “He is a witness, and is being questioned as a witness,” Soulier said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Barbarin is being questioned in the case of Bernard Preynat, a priest charged with sexual aggression and rape of a minor and accused of abusing boy scouts in the 1980s. Barbarin says he was convinced the priest reformed in 2007-2008 when they met.
A Lyon court is scheduled to decide Thursday whether the case can still be pursued or whether the alleged abuse happened too long ago to determine responsibility.
Some called for Barbarin’s resignation after the investigations began, and France’s prime minister called on Barbarin to take action.
Pope Francis recently expressed support for Barbarin, saying he shouldn’t resign.
“Based on the information I have, I think in Lyon, Cardinal Barbarin has taken the necessary measures and has taken things well in hand,” the pope said in an interview with French Catholic daily La Croix last month.
Francis has, however, recently laid out internal Vatican procedures to investigate and sanction bishops who bungled handling abuse cases. The new law, which goes into effect in September, could see a bishop removed from office if the Vatican finds that he caused “grave harm” to his flock by negligently handling an abuse case.