A French appeals court has acquitted France's best-known cartoonist of accusations of inciting hatred for a drawing representing former Pope Benedict XVI sexually abusing a child.

Catholic association AGRIF sued Jean Plantureux, known under his pen name Plantu, after he posted the disputed cartoon on his personal website then published it in Le Monde Magazine in 2010. The association said it was an "incitation to hatred and violence" against Catholics.

A lower court acquitted Plantu last year, saying the cartoon came out at a time of increasing reports of children abused by Catholic priests, while the Vatican was silent. An appeals court Thursday upheld the original ruling.

Plantu argued that he was trying to defend Catholic children from abusive priests.