LYON, France — Alleged victims of a pedophile priest say the conviction of a French cardinal for failing to report the accusations to judicial authorities is a great victory for child protection and a powerful message to the Church.

Francois Devaux, the president of the association “La Parole Liberee” (Lift the Burden of Silence), a group of victims of Father Bernard Preynat said “we see that no one is above the law. We have been heard by the court. This is the end of a long path.”

In a surprise verdict, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was found guilty Thursday and given a six-month suspended sentence.

Devaux added: “This is a victory that sends a strong signal to lots of victims and a signal to the Church as well.”

A lawyer for some of Preynat’s alleged victims, Yves Sauvayre, called the verdict “historic.”

“This is a turning point,” he said.

Barbarin’s lawyer said his client will appeal the verdict.

Jean-Felix Luciani said “this is a decision that is not fair at the juridical level.”

Speaking of his “disappointment” at the six-month suspended prison sentence, he said, “We hope that at the next step, justice will be done,” suggesting he was hoping for an acquittal in the appeal.

The prosecutor had also argued against convicting, saying there were no grounds to prove legal wrongdoing.

Barbarin was not present at the court in Lyon for the verdict Thursday.

Five other defendants were acquitted. Alleged victims claim church hierarchy covered up for Preynat for years.

The priest has confessed to abusing Boy Scouts in the 1970s and ’80s and will be tried separately.