French Cardinal Barbarin says pope refused his offer to resign over sex abuse case

PARIS (Reuters) - Philippe Barbarin, the French Roman Catholic cardinal convicted of failing to report sexual abuse charges, said on Tuesday that Pope Francis had turned down his offer to resign but had suggested he stand aside for a while.

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Barbarin, who is appealing his guilty verdict, said in a statement that he had agreed to the idea for the good of the diocese in the city of Lyon.

“On Monday morning, I put forward my resignation to the hands of the Holy Father. Invoking the presumption of innocence, he declined to accept this resignation,” Barbarin, who is the Archbishop of Lyon, said in a statement issued by the Catholic Church.

“At his suggestion and given how the Church of Lyon has suffered for the past three years, I have decided to step aside for a while and hand over the day-to-day running of the diocese to Vicar General, Father Yves Baumgarten,” he added.

Barbarin told France’s KTO television that he would stay out of day-to-day activities for a while, depending on the court appeal process, although he would remain head of the dioceses in title and would continue to sign off on documents.

He added that he decided to take a step back to allow the dioceses to heal and turn the page.

“I think that my dioceses has been suffering a lot for a long time,” Barbarin told KTO television.

“I was also particularly touched by one of the victims who said during the trial that... yes, you have been suffering for around three to four years. Do you realize that we have been suffering for around 30 to 40 years. That was painful to hear,” he said.

In a separate statement, the Vatican acknowledged that the pope had not accepted the resignation offer and had let Barbarin decide what was best for his diocese.

“The Holy See is keen to reiterate its closeness to the victims of abuse, to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Lyon and of the whole Church of France who are experiencing a particularly painful moment,” the Vatican statement said.

A court in Lyon ruled this month that between July 2014 and June 2015 Barbarin covered up allegations of sexual abuse of boy scouts in the 1980s and early 1990s by a priest who is due to go on trial later this year.

Barbarin, 68, the highest-profile cleric to be caught up in the child sex abuse scandal inside the French Church, was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence. He has denied the allegations and has launched an appeal.

The trial put Europe’s senior clergy in the spotlight at a time when the pope is grappling with criticism over the Church’s response to a decades-long sexual abuse crisis that has gravely damaged its standing around the globe.

Victims of sexual abuse by clergymen say a top-level conference at the Vatican last month failed to come up with concrete measures to tackle the issue.

An Australian court last week sentenced former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell to six years in prison for sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne - the most senior Catholic to be convicted for child sex offences.

Reporting by Marine Pennetier, Sudip Kar-Gupta and Bate Felix; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Ed Osmond