French bishops questioned at Senate about sexual abuse

French bishops questioned at Senate about sexual abuse

French bishops questioned at Senate about sexual abuse

In this Jan. 7, 2019 file photo, French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin waits for the start of his trial at the Lyon courthouse, central France. (Credit: Laurent Cipriani/AP.)

The head of the Catholic bishops' body in France will be questioned Tuesday by Senate lawmakers who are writing a report aimed at combatting pedophilia across all of the country's institutions.

PARIS — The head of the Catholic bishops’ body in France will be questioned Tuesday by Senate lawmakers who are writing a report aimed at combatting pedophilia across all of the country’s institutions.

The group’s findings are expected to be submitted in April with recommendations on how to root out sexual abuse.

But its authority falls short of a more powerful parliamentary commission into pedophilia in the Church specifically that was planned and then scrapped last fall.

The report is being compiled as France’s most important church sex abuse trial yet appears set to end in acquittal in March for Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who is accused of protecting a pedophile priest.

Father Bernard Preynat confessed to abusing Boy Scouts in the 1980s and 1990s, and his victims say church hierarchy — including Barbarin — covered up for him for years, allowing him to work with children right up until his 2015 retirement.

But by the time the cover-up trial reached court in January of this year, the statute of limitations had expired on some charges and even the prosecutor argued against convicting the cardinal.

Barbarin had been dogged by criticism for comments in which he seemed to express relief that some accusations could no longer be tried in court at a press conference in Lourdes.

“The majority of the facts, thanks to God, are lapsed,” Barbarin told reporters in 2016.

The words ran so deep that they helped inspire a movie depicting sexual abuse in the Catholic Church by director Francois Ozon, on release this week in France, that echoes Barbarin’s comments in its title: “Thanks to God.”

Catholic officials have been interrogated by a variety of government-appointed panels, independent inquiries, U.N. committees, and investigative bodies over the years, but parliamentary investigations are rare.

Australia has carried out a more sweeping investigation than in France, in the form of a years-long Royal Commission inquiry — the highest form of investigation — into abuse in the Catholic Church and other institutions.

The announcement of the French report comes as Pope Francis is set to convene a first-ever summit of senior churchmen from every bishops’ conference around the globe to try to develop a universal response to the problem. That meeting is set for Feb. 21-24 at the Vatican.

Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story.

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