French priest and bishop convicted over sexual abuse of minors

The convictions are the latest in a series of sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Vatican.

    The Vatican is under pressure following a string of abuses committed by clergy in the Americas, Australia and Europe [Stefan Wermuth/Reuters]
    The Vatican is under pressure following a string of abuses committed by clergy in the Americas, Australia and Europe [Stefan Wermuth/Reuters]

    A French priest has been sentenced to two years in prison for sexually abusing multiple children, while his former bishop has been given a suspended sentence of eight months for failing to report the crimes.

    A court in the city of Orleans in central France on Thursday handed down the verdict against the priest, Pierre de Castelet, and the retired bishop, Andre Fort.

    A court official said the ruling forbids de Castelet from working as a priest or meeting with minors, puts him on a national list of sex offenders and orders him to receive psychiatric treatment.

    Three victims were awarded 16,000 euros ($18,245) each in damages.

    De Castelet, 69, was convicted for abusing children during a summer camp in 1993, where he touched them inappropriately while pretending to carry out medical examinations.

    Both men are expected to avoid serving time behind bars, since French law allows a convict to apply for a non-custodial punishment in cases involving short jail sentences.

    Still, prosecutions of bishops are extremely rare in France, with the last case dating back to 2001 when a bishop in the town of Bayeux-Lisieux was given a three-month suspended jail term for failing to report abuse.

    After the judgements, one of de Castelet's victims, Olivier Savignac, said he was satisfied with the outcome.

    "We were heard. I am happy with my country," he told reporters.

    Vatican under pressure

    Predominantly Catholic France has seen priests accused of sexual abuse recently but has not faced a national scandal or reckoning like that seen in multiple countries across the world.

    French Catholic clerics have also been caught in abuse scandals, according to French investigative journal, Mediapart.

    In response to alleged abuse scandals, French bishops organised an "independent" panel to investigate child abuse committed by Catholic priests in early November. 

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    The Bishops' Conference of France said in a November 7 statement that the panel would seek "to understand the reasons which led to the way these affairs were handled" and make recommendations.

    The Vatican is under pressure following a string of sexual abuse accusations against clergy in the Americas, Australia and Europe.

    More than 300 "predator" priests were accused of abusing over 1,000 minors over seven decades in the US state of Pensylvania, according to a report released in August. 

    Most of the abuse survivors were boys, the report said.

    On Monday, the Catholic Church in Spain admitted that priests and other members of the clergy had sexually abused minors.

    Earlier this year, all 31 Catholic bishops in Chile offered their resignation over a sex abuse cover-up scandal.

    Pope Francis has called for a summit in February on the prevention of sex abuse with national Catholic Church leaders from around the world.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies