A French priest from the town of Orleans was handed a two-year jail term on Thursday and a bishop was convicted for failing to report him in rare prosecutions that have shaken the French Catholic church.
Pierre de Castelet, 69, was sentenced to two years in prison, with another year suspended, after abusing children during a summer camp in 1993 where he touched them while pretending to carry out medical examinations.
His superior, the former bishop of Orleans Andre Fort, 83, was given a suspended prison sentence of eight months for failing to notify French police when he was made aware of the abuse allegations in 2008.
Both men are expected to avoid serving time behind bars, however, under French law that allows a convict to apply for a non-custodial punishment in cases involving short jail sentences.
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 judgments in the court in Orleans in central France, 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.
Savignac and other victims of sexual abuse in the French church were invited to a meeting of French bishops in the religious town of Lourdes in November to testify about their experiences.
The move was seen as a symbolic acknowledgment of the church’s responsibility amid a mounting number of scandals, which have hit the Catholic faith in other countries from Ireland, the United States to Australia.
The Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF) said in early November they were setting up an “independent” commission to “shed light on the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church since 1950”.
The most senior French Catholic cleric to be caught up in the abuse scandal is Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who is to go on trial in January for allegedly covering up for a priest accused of abusing boy scouts in the Lyon area in the 1980s.