French cardinal Barbarin convicted over sex abuse cover-up

Barbarin was found guilty of failing to report the abuse of a minor between 2014 and 2015 (AFP Photo/ERIC CABANIS)

Lyon (AFP) - The archbishop of Lyon, the most senior French Catholic cleric caught up in the paedophilia scandals that have rocked the church, was convicted of helping covering up abuse and handed a six-month suspended jail term on Thursday.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was not in court, was found guilty of failing to report the abuse of a minor between 2014 and 2015.

His lawyers announced immediately that he would appeal the judgement.

"The reasoning of the court is not convincing," lawyer Jean-Felix Luciani told reporters. "We will contest this decision by all the means possible."

Barbarin, 68, faced long-standing allegations from victims' groups that he failed to report a priest under his authority to police after learning of abuse which took place in the 1980s and 90s.

But prosecutors judged that those crimes were beyond the statute of limitations -- meaning they were too old to prosecute -- and declined to press charges.

During the trial, victims accused Barbarin of being aware of the abuse allegations from at least 2010 and then trying to cover up the scandal, under orders from the Vatican, from 2015.

Francois Devaux, who leads a victim's group in Lyon, called Thursday's verdict a "major victory for child protection."

The Catholic Church has been roiled in recent years by claims against priests which have come to light in the wake of a global move by victims to go public with evidence.

Clerics have been denounced in countries as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ireland, and the United States, leading Pope Francis to promise to rid the church of a scourge that has done enormous damage to its standing.