Cardinal Barbarin Remains Archbishop, Takes Leave of Absence

Vatican says Francis has not accepted the French cardinal’s resignation, though the prelate has stepped back from the day-to-day leadership of his archdiocese.

Pope Francis meets with Cardinal Philippe Barbarin March 18.
Pope Francis meets with Cardinal Philippe Barbarin March 18. (photo: Vatican Press Office )

VATICAN CITY — French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin will remain the archbishop of Lyon, the Vatican announced Tuesday. According to a statement released by the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis has not accepted the cardinal’s resignation, though Cardinal Barbarin has stepped back from the day-to-day leadership of his archdiocese.

Cardinal Barbarin was convicted by a French tribunal on March 7 on charges of failing to report allegations of sexual abuse committed by a priest of his diocese. He was given a six-month suspended prison sentence, and he plans to appeal the verdict.

Cardinal Barbarin met with Pope Francis March 18 to submit his resignation as archbishop. Papal spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said March 19 that Francis chose to not accept the resignation, but, aware of the “difficulties” of the archdiocese at the present moment, “left Cardinal Barbarin free to make the best decision for the diocese.”

According to Gisotti, Cardinal Barbarin has decided to “retire for a time,” leaving the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Lyon in charge during his absence.

In a statement on the Lyon archdiocesan website March 19, the cardinal said the Pope did not want to accept his resignation, “invoking the presumption of innocence.”

“At his suggestion and because the Church of Lyon has been suffering for three years, I decided to retreat for a while and leave the leadership of the diocese to the vicar general moderator, Father Yves Baumgarten,” he said.

“The Holy See is keen to reiterate its closeness to the victims of abuse, to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Lyon and of the whole Church of France who are experiencing a particularly painful moment,” Gisotti’s statement concluded.

French tribunal president Brigitte Vernay declared Cardinal Barbarin guilty March 7 “of non-denunciation of ill-treatment” of a minor, according to Agence France-Presse.

The trial began in January on charges the cardinal did not report instances of abuse to judicial authorities between July 2014 and June 2015 in a case involving Father Bernard Preynat, who has been accused of abusing dozens of minors in the 1980s and early ’90s.

In 2017, the cardinal told Le Monde that he did not conceal allegations against Father Preynat, but that his response to the allegations had been “inadequate.” He said he opened an investigation against Father Preynat after becoming aware of the allegations against him.

Allegations against Father Preynat became public in 2015. Prosecutors dropped the case the following year after an initial investigation, but a victims’ group with more than 80 members who say they were abused by Father Preynat led to a reopening of the case, The Guardian reported.

Father Preynat was banned from leading boy scout groups in the early 1990s, but remained in ministry until being removed by Cardinal Barbarin in 2015.

The priest will face his own trial later this year.

Cardinal Barbarin’s trial and conviction comes as revelations of clerical sex abuse and cover-up continue to send shock waves through the Catholic Church. The United States, Ireland, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Poland and Germany are among the countries that have seen recent abuse scandals uncovered.