French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin and a senior Vatican official were today ordered to stand trial for allegedly covering up for a paedophile priest accused of abusing several boy scouts in Lyon in the 1980s.
The most senior French Catholic official to be tried for failing to report a predator priest will go on trial on April 4 next year along with six co-defendants, a court in Lyon said.
Barbarin, who is archbishop of Lyon, is accused of having shielded priest Bernard Preynat from claims of abuse involving scouts in his Lyon parish.
The head of the Vatican's powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Spanish Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, is accused of complicity in the alleged cover-up.
In correspondence with Barbarin about the priest the Vatican's number three had advised the cardinal to take "necessary disciplinary measures while avoiding public scandal" -- seen as a warning to keep the abuse quiet.
The affair came to light in 2014 when one of the former scouts reported Preynat to the Church and demanded he be sacked.
But 66-year-old Barbarin -- one of the French Church's most prominent figures -- left him in his post for several more months.
In 2016, Preynat was charged with statutory rape and sexual assault but an investigation into Barbarin's silence on the issue was dropped for lack of evidence.
Ten people who claim to have been abused by Preynat pressed their case and succeeded in having it reopened.
If convicted of failing to report the abuse, he risks up to three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($54,000).
The four other defendants in the case are the archbishop of the southwestern diocese of Auch and a bishop from the central city of Nevers, both of whom formerly served in Lyon, as well as Barbarin's former chief of staff and Preynat's former direct superior.
Barbarin has denied any attempt to shield Preynat, saying he did not know how to deal with allegations relating to events dating back over two decades.
But after initially saying he first learned of the allegations in 2014 he admitted in 2016 to having known about the allegations for nearly a decade.
Since then he has been accused of covering up for another paedophile priest and promoting a third cleric who had been given a suspended sentence for sexually assaulting students.