A Vatican tribunal has ruled against transmitting a summons to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer to appear before a French court.
The Holy See sent a diplomatic note to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sept. 17 confirming its refusal to notify Cardinal Ladaria of a summons to appear in a French court over the Cardinal Barbarin affair.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon and other diocesan leaders have been accused of having failed to make a police report concerning the pedophile priest, Father Bernard Preynat.
The victims, now in their 30s and 40s, claimed that Father Preynat sexually abused them when they were boy scouts aged between 7 and 12 in the Lyon region between 1986 and 1991.
Although prosecutors dropped the case in 2016, Father Preynat’s victims summoned the Lyon archbishop in a private prosecution.
In a search of the offices of the Archdiocese of Lyon, investigators found a letter from Ladaria, who was then secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, advising Barbarin to take “appropriate disciplinary measures” against Preynat “while avoiding public scandal.”
In canon law “avoiding scandal” technically means “not providing another person with an occasion of sin.”
However, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the phrase amounted to a warning not to involve the French justice system in the affair. This was the basis of their accusation of complicity against Cardinal Ladaria.
The Holy See sought a ruling from the Vatican City tribunal, the Apostolic Signatura, on the matter after receiving a summons to appear addressed to Cardinal Ladaria via diplomatic channels.
However, the tribunal ruled that the request was not valid since Ladaria had written to Cardinal Barbarin in his capacity as a minister of state “exercising his sovereign role.”
International law grants heads of state and ministers immunity of jurisdiction for actions relating to their role when it is linked to the sovereignty of a state.
Although this immunity is not directly mentioned in international treaties, its existence was recently confirmed by the Criminal Branch of France’s Court of Cassation (Appeals Court).
In 2013, the court ruled that “international custom which is opposed to the pursuit of states before criminal jurisdictions of a foreign state extends to those bodies and entities that are an emanation of the state as well as their agents in relation to actions that (are) related to the sovereignty of the state concerned.”
Based on this principle, “the Vatican tribunal ruled that the request was unacceptable and determined that it would not take action with respect to the notification of the summons to Cardinal Ladaria,” the Holy See note addressed to France said.
Nevertheless, the Holy See’s refusal is not expected to prevent the holding of the hearing before the 6th Chamber of the Lyon Criminal Court planned for Jan. 1, 2019.
At a preliminary hearing in September, the president of the court criticized the plaintiffs for not requesting that Cardinal Ladaria be tried separately, adding that it was not in favor of a new trial.
Cardinal Barbarin’s lawyer also hit out at what he characterized as “the soap opera around the affair.”