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”.
Cardinal 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,” Cardinal 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.
In a separate statement, the Vatican acknowledged that the Pope had not accepted the resignation offer and had let Cardinal 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 earlier this month that between July 2014 and June 2015 Cardinal 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.
Cardinal 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.
Last week an Australian court 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.