Last Friday, vote La Croix, one of the most important Catholic newspapers in France, a dramatic headline: "The shock". It is the day after the verdict against the most prominent churchman of France: Philippe Cardinal Barbarin, 68 years old, Primate of Gaul, Archbishop of Lyon, He is given six months probation for not reporting sexual assault. Two weeks after the first abuse peak in the Vatican, the abuse scandal has reached another climax, comparable to the condemnation of a close confidant of Pope Francis, the Australian curia cardinal George Pell.
This time it hits the Catholic Church in a country where it is deeply rooted, but where religion has been strictly separated from the state for decades. There is no church tax, no religious education and no opening worship services for political events, as is customary in Germany. The discussion on the extent to which religion can enter into public life has been present for years. More and more news about priests' sexual assault on children and nuns, mostly in the seventies, eighties and nineties, has not helped the church in this climate. Even less their dealings with it.
Other media events are also intensifying the negative image of the Catholic Church in public. An investigation into sexual assault is opened against the nuncio in Paris; the television station Arte shows a documentary about the abuse of nuns and in the cinema the drama starts God be praised from François Ozon, which depicts the abuse scandal surrounding Barbarin.
About ten percent of the French population are considered practicing Catholics. Between two and six percent of the population visit the church regularly on Sundays. The director of the polling institute Ifop in France, Jérôme Fourquet, attests to the French becoming increasingly alienated from Christianity. "We are facing a major turnaround due to the generation renewal," he said La Croix a day before the judges in Lyon pronounced their verdict in the trial of Barbarin. The Catholics were still active and present, said Fourquet. Nevertheless, they are no longer a "structuring power" of society. According to Fourquet, Catholicism is just another culture. "Catholicism in France is changing from the stage of dominant culture to one among others, even to a counterculture."
Barbarin is not accused of having sexually assaulted himself, but to have left the 72-year-old priest Bernard Preynat in his office, although he knew of his actions in the past. With this Barbarin made himself punishable. Because in France, all citizens are obliged to report the suspicion of sexual abuse of minors in the judiciary.
Between 1970 and 1991, Preynat La Croix According to some 70 scouts have abused. His former boss, Cardinal Barbarin, tacitly retired in 2015 on the advice of the Vatican. In January 2019, the civil lawsuit against Barbarin and six other priests for non-disclosure of sexual abuse takes place.
Barbarin testifies in court. For three hours he gives the judges and audience insights into his perception of the case. His conviction that he has the only correct view of the events, is apparently nothing to shake. "I have never covered the sexual abuse committed by a priest," says the 68-year-old.
In his statements, the churchman presents himself as someone who sees no guilt in himself and does not understand why he is accused. Why did not he suspend the priest from his ministry at this time? Preynat swore he had not abused a child since 1990. "At that moment, I did not think that I had to do that because the cases were time-barred and the victim himself confirmed that it could not change anything," said Barbarin.