Pope Francis has rejected the resignation of a senior cardinal convicted of covering-up child sex abuse allegations in the church.
Philippe Barbarin said he tendered his resignation, but “invoking the presumption of innocence, the Holy Father declined to accept this resignation.”
Dailymail.co.uk reports: A Vatican spokesman later confirmed Barbarin’s statement, saying Pope Francis instead asked Barbarin during their audience to do what he thinks is best for the Lyon archdiocese.
Barbarin has decided to take time away and has asked his deputy to assume leadership of the archdiocese.
Barbarin was found guilty of failing to report allegations of abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s by Reverand Bernard Preynat, who is due to go on trial later this year, and given a six-month suspended sentence.
He is planning to appeal but travelled to the Vatican on Monday to offer Francis his resignation.
In a statement Tuesday, The Vatican spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti said the Vatican remains close to sex abuse victims and the French faithful ‘who are living in a particularly painful moment.’
Barbarin is the most senior French cleric caught up in the global paedophilia scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church.
He and five former aides went on trial in Lyon at a time when the Catholic Church has been hit by abuse scandals in countries as far afield as Australia, Chile and the United States .
Earlier, Barbarin, who was once tipped as a future Pope, had said: ‘I cannot see what I am guilty of. I never tried to hide, let alone cover up these horrible facts.’
The case broke three years ago and lawyers for nine adult plaintiffs – former boy scouts allegedly abused by priest Preynat – took legal action.
Since the abuse relates to acts committed before 1991, prosecutors had declined to press charges because of the statute of limitations.
The trial went ahead only because the plaintiffs bypassed the prosecutor’s office and insisted, as they are entitled, on putting their case before a court.
Under French law, the court can still convict and even jail the suspect, regardless of the prosecutor’s position.
Barbarin and his co-defendants have denied covering up the scandal, with the archbishop saying he found out the full story about the priest only after it became public.
Preynat, who was charged with sexual abuse in 2016, is expected to be tried later this year.
He was first interviewed by church leaders in 1991, but Barbarin only suspended him and stopped him from working with children in September 2015.
Plaintiffs point to an exchange in 2015 between Barbarin and the Vatican, which advised him to dismiss the offending priest ‘while avoiding public scandal’.
Jean Boudot, lawyer for the victims, accused Barbarin of being a ‘liar’ when he said he had only learned of the breadth of the damage in 2014.
Barbarin said he confronted Preynat, about the abuse ‘rumours’ in 2010 but let the matter drop after Preynat insisted he had changed.
In 2014, after meeting with one of the priest’s victims, Barbarin contacted the Vatican about the affair, but he only removed the priest from his post a few months later.
Two other French religious figures have been convicted of failing to report child abuse in the past: the archbishop of Bayeux-Lisieux, Pierre Rican, in 2001, and the former bishop of Orleans, Andre Fort, last year.
Pope Francis last month promised an ‘all-out battle’ to tackle every single case of sexual abuse by priests, comparing paedophilia to ‘human sacrifice’, but drew an angry response from victims.