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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Bishop convicted in paedophile case
Monsignor Pierre Pican, bishop of Bayeux-Lisieux
Victims' families say the bishop should have told police
A court has convicted a Roman Catholic bishop of concealing knowledge that a priest was sexually abusing children, sentencing him to a three-month suspended prison term.

The prosecution said Pierre Pican, 66, bishop of Bayeux-Lisieux in Normandy, had failed to ensure the case was brought to the attention of judicial authorities.

He becomes the first bishop in modern French history to receive a criminal conviction.

The sentence was lighter than the four-to-six-month suspended prison term sought by Prosecutor Jacques-Philippe Segondat.

The maximum sentence would have been three years in jail.

Professional secrecy

The prosecutor, in his argument at the close of Pican's trial in June, had made clear that it was not the church that was being judged.

"This is not the trial of the church, but of a man of the church who failed in his duty," the prosecutor had told the court.

Pican's lawyers had argued that the bishop had been motivated by what amounts to professional secrets even though he learned of the priest's acts outside the church confessional.

But the prosecution said this legal notion did not apply to crimes against children.

The priest, Father Rene Bissey, was convicted in October of raping and sexually abusing 11 minors from 1996-1998, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Last week, Bissey told a court that he had decided not to appeal his conviction.

Heated debate

It was the testimony of a 22-year-old man identified only as Yann R, a former victim of the priest, that brought the case to trial.

Pican admitted in June to the court in the northern town of Caen that he had concealed the priest's paedophile activities, but said he would do the same again.

Pican learned of Bissey's offences in 1996 from the vicar general of Normandy, who had been approached by distressed parents.

He sent the priest on a retreat and sent him for psychiatric help and two years later transferred him to a nearby parish, where he was arrested.

The case sparked a heated debate about how far the secrecy of the confessional in the Roman Catholic church should go.

See also:

15 Jun 01 | Europe
Bishop kept quiet over paedophile
15 Jun 01 | Europe
Crisis in the confessional
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