ROME — Pope Francis has rejected the resignation of a French cardinal, the Vatican announced on Tuesday, despite the cardinal’s conviction this month for covering up decades-old allegations of sexual abuse by a priest in his diocese.
A French court found Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, guilty on March 7 of failing to report abuse to the authorities, and imposed a six-month suspended sentence.
Cardinal Barbarin, 68, promptly offered to resign, though he is appealing the verdict. He met with Pope Francis on Monday to personally hand in his resignation, but both the cardinal and a Vatican spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti, said on Tuesday that the pope had not accepted it.
Instead, they said, the cardinal, one of the highest-ranking and best-known Roman Catholic officials in France, will step aside for an unspecified length of time.
Cardinal Barbarin said in a statement that the pope had acted “invoking the presumption of innocence.”
“He gave me the freedom to make the decision that seemed best, today, for the life of the Lyon diocese,” the cardinal said. At the pope’s suggestion, he said, he was stepping aside “for a while,” effective immediately, and would leave the day-to-day handling of church affairs to Father Yves Baumgarten, the vicar-general in Lyon.
Mr. Gisotti used much the same language, saying that the pope had given Cardinal Barbarin a free hand “to make the most appropriate decision for his diocese,” which was undergoing difficulties, and that Cardinal Barbarin “had decided to withdraw for some time.”
The pope’s decision came only weeks after he had concluded an unprecedented meeting with church leaders from around the world on how to best confront the scourge of clerical child abuse. The speakers there urged the church’s bishops to take the issue seriously and not to protect their own, or let abuse fester in their ranks.
Days after Cardinal Barbarin, head of the diocese since 2002 and cardinal since 2003, was found guilty, an Australian court sentenced Cardinal George Pell, the former Vatican treasurer, to six years in prison for molesting two teenage boys.
The case against Cardinal Barbarin stemmed from allegations against the Rev. Bernard Preynat, a priest who was the chaplain of a Boy Scout group from 1972 to 1991, and has been accused of molesting dozens of boys. Father Preynat admitted to some abuse in letters to victims’ families. The cardinal removed the priest from his post in 2015.
Cardinal Barbarin was charged with failing to report the accusations to the authorities, as required under French law. Father Preynat is awaiting trial on charges of sexual abuse of minors.
A court in Lyon ruled this month that in failing to report abuse when he was alerted to it, the cardinal had chosen to “protect” the church at the expense of victims. Cardinal Barbarin has consistently denied a cover-up.