French diocese offices searched in paedophile priest case: source

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French diocese's offices searched in paedophile priest case

Lyon (AFP) - French investigators searched the offices of the diocese of Lyon on Wednesday over the alleged cover-up of a paedophile priest, a source close to the probe said.

The diocese said in a statement that the Archbishop of Lyon, Philippe Barbarin, who is under fire over his handling of the affair, "has said repeatedly that he is prepared to cooperate openly with the investigation".

The search of the offices is linked to the prosecution of Bernard Preynat, a priest who has admitted sexually abusing scouts that he was supervising in the Lyon area of central France more than 25 years ago.

Preynat's victims have filed a formal complaint against Barbarin and other leading clergy, accusing them of failing to inform the police of the priest's acts when he became aware of them in 2008.

"As part of the preliminary investigation opened by the Lyon prosecutor, the diocese of Lyon has today handed over to investigators material which could shed light on these tragic events," the diocese said in a statement.

Barbarin, 65, a media-friendly and influential archbishop, has denied any cover-up and pointed out that the crimes date from a decade before he became archbishop of Lyon in 2002.

Last week, he apologised during a mass to victims of sexual abuse.

Quoting Pope Francis, Barbarin said he was "obliged to assume all the evil committed by some priests and personally apologise for the damage they have caused by sexually abusing children."

The scandal is the worst to hit the Catholic Church in France since 2001, when a bishop was given a three-month suspended jail sentence for failing to inform authorities of a paedophile priest.

The Catholic Church worldwide continues to be dogged by cases of paedophile priests and past cover-ups, despite Pope Francis' promise of a crackdown.