LYON, France (AP) — A French priest who acknowledged sexually abusing at least 75 boys over decades was sentenced Monday to five years in prison, in France’s worst case of clergy abuse to reach trial.
The court in Lyon issued the verdict against 74-year-old Bernard Preynat behind closed doors because of the spreading coronavirus that has shuttered most activity in France.
Preynat’s case forced the first serious reckoning with sex abuse within the Catholic Church in France. Preynat testified that multiple cardinals and other senior church officials were aware of his misconduct dating back to the 1960s, but he wasn’t removed from the priesthood until last year.
Victims of Preynat’s abuse, primarily boy scouts, welcomed his conviction for sexually abusing minors. Preynat was a scout leader.
“It’s really a relief,” said Pierre Emmanuel Germain-Thill, who testified that Preynat’s abuse upturned his life. “Since he’s someone of a certain age, it seems like a correct verdict to me. The victims want to turn the page.”
Preynat could have faced up to 10 years in prison, and the prosecution had asked for at least eight years. It wasn’t immediately clear whether either side would appeal.
Preynat was present for the verdict, but didn’t speak to any victims.
“He reacted as a man who has recognized his guilt,” his lawyer Frederic Doyer told reporters outside the courthouse.
During the trial, Preynat said he became interested in young boys when he was 14 or 15, and he discussed it with his bishop of the time, but was still later ordained as a priest. Preynat testified that while working as their scout chaplain, he abused up to two boys “almost every weekend” from 1970 to 1990 and as many as four or five a week when he led one-week scout camps. He said that successive Lyon cardinals told him to stop, but didn’t report him to police.