Trial of Lebanese priest accused of sexual abuse begins in France
The trial of Lebanese priest Mansour Labaky started on Monday at the Criminal Court of the French city of Caen. The Maronite priest is formally accused of sexually abusing three children under his care, but there are dozens more alleged victims.
Labaky, now 81, is prosecuted by three women who say they were sexually assaulted by the priest in the nineties while they were still teenagers. They were living in a French orphanage for Lebanese children founded by Labaky in the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War.
"There are at least 27 known victims in this file," lawyer Solange Doumic -who represents the victims in this case- told Lebanese news outlet L'Orient Le Jour. Most of them cannot press charges because the legal timeframe to do so has expired.
"There are probably many more Lebanese victims, but they cannot speak up as long as Labaky remains as powerful as he is in Lebanon," Doumic added.
The priest has been under investigation in France since 2013. The same year, a Vatican court had found him guilty of sexually abusing three children.
Labaky now lives in Lebanon and has not returned to France since the Vatican verdict. In 2017, the Lebanese state refused his extradition. Therefore, Labaky will be tried in absentia and faces up to 20 years in jail.
According to French law, victims of sexual abuse during childhood must press charges within the ten to thirty years following their eighteenth birthday, depending on the type of crime they faced. Oftentimes, people who experienced sexual assault during childhood see their cases dismissed on the grounds that this legal delay has expired.
French society was deeply shaken last month following the release on October 5 of a report on sexual abuses in the Catholic Church. The "Sauvé Report", drafted by an independent commission, revealed that over 300,000 children have been sexually abused by Catholic Church clergy and staff since 1950 in France.