"When an ecclesiastical judge knows that his notes and conclusions could be shown with impunity before a penal jurisdiction, he will lose the necessary freedom of action. He will meet with an obstacle, and it is precisely the freedom of worship that is at stake," Cardinal Billé told the plenary assembly of the French bishops´ conference under way here.
Cardinal Billé, 63, who a few days ago announced he was resigning from the presidency of the episcopate because he has cancer, mentioned two cases which indicate trouble for clerical secrecy.
The first case involved Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux. He was sentenced to a suspended jail term for not publicly denouncing a priest who admitted to the bishop his tendency toward pedophilia.
The second, lesser-known case occurred in the cardinal´s own Archdiocese of Lyon. It deals with a case of pedophilia on the part of a religious. A canonical investigation has begun on the matter. The police have searched the residence of the monsignor in charge of the investigation, even carrying off material unrelated to the case.
"The Church is concerned with cooperating in uncovering the truth," Cardinal Billé said. "However, how can it do so if its measures can no longer be applied? French justice cannot reproach the Church for inaction in the face of crimes or offenses committed by priests and at the same time block the functioning of its internal justice."
"By deliberately denying the professional secrecy of the ministers of worship it will impede the Church from assuming its responsibilities and cooperating in seeking the truth," warned the cardinal.