France’s most senior cardinal was found guilty on Thursday of failing to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors by a priest to authorities.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for providing cover for the Rev. Bernard Preynat by not going to authorities about the alleged abuse between July 2014 and June 2015.
Nine alleged abuse victims claim that Barbarin and the clergy covered up crimes committed by Preynat for years, though the statute of limitations had expired on some allegations and thought that the court would actually acquit the cardinal.
Five other defendants were acquitted.
Barbarin’s lawyer Jean-Felix Luciani said they will appeal the ruling.
“This is a decision that is not fair at the juridical level,” the lawyer said. “We hope that at the next step, justice will be done.”
Preynat previously admitted to abusing Boy Scouts in the 1970s and 1980s and will be tried in a separate case.
“This is a victory that sends a strong signal to lots of victims and a signal to the church as well,” said Francois Devaux, who is the president of “La Parole Liberee” (Lift the Burden of Silence). “We see that no one is above the law. We have been heard by the court. This is the end of a long path.”
Yves Sauvayre, the lawyer representing some of the victims, called the ruling “historic” and said that “the cardinal is convicted because he didn’t do what needed to be done.”
The victims claim that top church officials had been aware of the priest’s actions at least since 1991, yet continued to allow him to work with children up until 2015 when he retired.
Christian Burdet, 53, told the court back in January that Preynat coerced him to go into his tent when he was just 10-years-old. Following years of trauma, Burden said he wanted to “understand how this system was put in place” and help other victims of sexual abuse by priests to speak out.
An archbishop, a bishop, a priest and two other officials had been on trial in addition to Barbarin. Cardinal Luis Ladaria was also accused of wrongdoing, but he didn’t appear in court after the Vatican invoked his diplomatic immunity.
Preynat himself will be subject to a trial next year, where he will face allegations stemming from 13 cases of alleged sexual abuse. There were a total 85 alleged victims, but due to the statute of limitations, most cases are too old to be presented in court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.