A defrocked French Catholic priest has been sentenced to five years in jail for sexually abusing scouts in his care several decades ago, ending a case in which it was claimed his superiors shielded him from prosecution.
After survivors testified about the abuse during his trial in Lyon, Bernard Preynat, 75, confessed in January to “caresses” he knew were forbidden.
The accusers were aged seven to 14 when the crimes were committed between 1971 and 1991, while Preynat was a scout leader in Lyon.
The five-year term was less than the eight years sought by prosecutors, who accused Preynat of “shattering” his victims’ lives and profiting from the silence of their parents and the church hierarchy.
Survivors’ groups had long accused Preynat’s superior, Philippe Barbarin, of covering up the abuse, making him the most senior French priest to be caught up in the global clerical child sexual abuse scandal in recent years.
Barbarin, a staunch conservative who became the archbishop of Lyon in 2002, was originally given a six-month suspended sentence in March 2019 for not reporting Preynat’s crimes. However, in January, an appeal court overturned the conviction, saying that while Barbarin should have informed the authorities, he was not criminally liable for his lack of action.
Pope Francis accepted Barbarin’s resignation this month.
Preynat was allowed to continue working as a priest by the Lyon dioceses until 2015, when initial claims from a handful of alleged victims became a deluge of damning testimony.
He said during his trial he had not touched any children since 1991 and faulted the church for failing to help him get treatment. “They should have helped me … They let me become a priest,” Preynat told the court, referring to therapy in 1967 and 1968.
He also asked forgiveness from the nine victims who testified against him. They were a small fraction of the alleged 85 people he allegedly abused during his career, though many cases were not heard because they exceeded statutes of limitation.
Preynat, who also said he had tried to kill himself, was defrocked by the church last July.
The scandal cast a harsh spotlight on Barbarin, who last year denied he covered up “these horrible facts” and said: “I cannot see what I am guilty of”.
This month, he said the last four years had been ones of “great, great suffering” for him and “it is important that a page be turned”.
The scandal also became the subject of an acclaimed film that was released last year by director François Ozon, who collaborated with some of the victims. The film was entitled Grace a Dieu (Thanks be to God).