'By the Grace of God' Catholic Priest Found Guilty of Covering Up Child Sexual Abuse

Courtesy of Berlinale
'By the Grace of God'

"This is symbolically a very important decision for all victims of sexual abuse, which will allow even greater freedom of speech," director Francois Ozon said after several suits tried to block the film's release.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, one of the Catholic priests at the center of Francois Ozon's Berlin Silver Bear winner By the Grace of God, has been found guilty of covering up child sexual abuse in a verdict handed down Thursday in Lyon.

Barbarin subsequently announced he will resign from the church following the conviction, for which he was given a six-month suspended sentence. He had previously attempted to resign, but his withdrawal was rejected by Pope Francis.

Regine Maire, a church volunteer who sued to stop the release of the film, was found not guilty of the same charge.

The two have been central to the case of Father Bernard Preynat, who is depicted in the film and also sued to stop the release of the film. His trial date has not been set but is expected to take place later this year.

Lawyers for Barbarin said they intend to appeal and alluded to Ozon's film as swaying the judges. "It was difficult for the court to resist pressure with a film," said lawyer Jean-Felix Luciani. "It poses real questions about the respect for justice."

In an interview with Le Parisien, Ozon praised the decision. "This is symbolically a very important decision for all victims of sexual abuse, which will allow even greater freedom of speech," he said. "Justice did not need my film to give its verdict. The facts were known — in articles, books, reports and especially in the testimonies of the victims."

Francois Devaux, co-founder of the victims' association La Parole Liberee, said it was a step forward for victims. "The victory sends a very strong signal to many victims and allows them to understand that they are heard, listened to and recognized," he said. "[This is] the culmination of a long journey for the emergence of awareness."

The film tells the story of the birth of La Parole Liberee and follows three of the victims as they unite to go public with their stories.

The film has had nearly 500,000 admissions since its release on Feb. 20. Comscore analyst Eric Marti gave credit to the news surrounding the film's release for its strong showing. "I believe the court cases, and mostly the pope's meeting in Rome on this issue was a much more powerful promotion than the prize in Berlin," he said.