Senior French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin faces trial for not reporting child abuse

ReutersFrench Archbishop Philippe Barbarin attends a Good Friday mass in Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France, March 25, 2016.

A senior French cardinal, Philippe Barbarin, is to be tried on charges of failing to report historical child sexual abuse.

He will go on trial on April 4 next year along with six co-defendants, after a ruling at a court in Lyon. The trial is set to run for three days.

The 66-year-old cardinal is accused of failing to report a priest, Bernard Preynat, to the authorities after a former scout in 2014 accused the cleric of abusing him in the 1980s.

Barbarin left the priest in his post until 2015, during which he continued to have contact with children.

AFP said that the scandal has tarnished the image of one of the France's most media-friendly Church figures.

The cardinal, who is also Archbishop of Lyon, has denied any wrongdoing, claiming that he did not know how to go about dealing with allegations dating back over two decades.

But he and six other priests have been ordered to appear in court for allegedly not speaking out against the abuse. An archbishop of a southwestern diocese and a bishop from the central city of Nevers are also accused in the case, according to AFP.

Preynat's alleged victims have accused Barbarin and others of not reporting the crimes to the authorities.

The lawyer represnting the alleged victims, Nadia Debbache, said the scandal goes beyond the accused priests.

'Everyone at his level has participated, including within the Vatican,' she said.

According to AFP, the scandal is the worst to hit the Church in France since 2001, when a bishop was given a three-month suspended jail sentence for failing to inform authorities about another paedophile priest.

Keith Porteous-Wood of the National Secular Society told Christian Today: 'In May the Pope was widely criticised for publicly meeting Cardinal Barbarin as his prosecution for failing to report a known clerical abuser was being considered by prosecuting authorities.'

He said the National Secular Society had been the observing the authorities apparent unwillingness to charge Barbarin despite him having admitted not reporting the known abuse.

The society drafted a letter to the French Ministry of Justice which a French affiliate sent and to which a comprehensive reply promising to take these matters seriously has been seen by Christian Today.

'We ask nothing other than that Cardinal Barbarin be subject to the same law as everyone else in France,' he said.