One of the first people to notice Bernard Preynat's unhealthy obsession for young boys was the supervisor at the seminary where, still a teen, the future priest started training for his career in the church.
"At 14, 15 years old, I became interested in the youngest boys and the supervisor summoned me to tell me that I was abnormal and sick," the self-confessed child abuser said at his trial in France this past week. "I explained this to the bishop."
And yet, after a two-year church-imposed course of psychotherapy, Preynat was still ordained into the priesthood. This chance, the first of many, to keep him away from children was spurned by the church hierarchy, which instead consistently — and successfully — long kept his abuses under wraps.
Now, at Preynat's trial in the city of Lyon, a fuller picture of the damage he wrought on dozens of boys and their families is emerging. Four days of hearings also gave a long-overdue airing to the enabling role played by French church officials. Aware of his abuses, Lyon cardinals told him to stop but didn't report him to police, he said.
"Had the church sidelined me earlier, I would have stopped earlier," the 74-year-old testified.
Only last July — about 40 years after parents first wrote to the Lyon diocese to raise alarm about the priest — was Preynat finally defrocked. Preyat told the court that he can't recall exactly how many boys he abused but estimated their number at no fewer than 75.
The shocking testimony of Preynat and his victims is dealing another blow to the French Catholic Church as it reckons with sexual abuses that were long covered up.
Preynat faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of sexually abusing minors in what is France's biggest clergy sex abuse trial to date. The prosecution asked for a sentence not less than eight years. A verdict is expected March 16.
For victims, the trial has reinforced suspicions that had church officials acted far sooner, they might have been spared terrifying boyhood memories of being sexually abused. In court, they recalled how Preynat smelled of cigars and panted as he pressed his belly against them.
"This trial shows that supervisors in the hierarchy were aware. We can see there was a lid over the diocese," said Pierre-Emmanuel Germain-Thill, who says his life was turned upside down by abuse he suffered. "On several occasions, parents denounced him."
Preynat said the psychotherapy the church made him undergo from 1967-1968 as a condition for being able to continue training for the priesthood quickly proved to be a failure.
"I thought I was cured after my therapy," he testified. "I was disappointed because I started again with the kids. After that, no other member of the church encouraged me to do another one."
His ordination in 1972 gave him both regular access to boys — he ran a scout group — and status to win the trust of unsuspecting parents.
Preynat testified that while working as their scout chaplain, he abused up to two boys "almost every weekend" from 1970 to 1990 and as many as four or five a week when he led one-week scout camps.
In a related case that reverberated all the way to the Vatican, Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was convicted in March of covering up for Preynat's actions. Barbarin tried to resign, but Pope Francis refused to accept it until the appeals process is complete. An appeals court ruling is expected Jan. 30.
Preynat testified that Barbarin's predecessors concealed his abuses, too.
The first Lyon cardinal to tell him to stop was Alexandre Renard, in 1978, after parents sent a letter to the diocese, he said. But he wasn't removed from his church in the Lyon suburb of Sainte-Foy-les-Lyons and was left free to continue managing the scout group he had started. Renard died in 1983.
More complaints from parents led to another summons in 1982 from the Lyon diocese, then led by Cardinal Albert Decourtray.
"I was warned by the hierarchy of the impact these acts could have in the media," Preynat said.
Again, he was sent back to work.
Another complaint followed in 1985, and was again suppressed, Preynat said.
The church finally pulled him away from Lyon and his scout group in 1991, when parents were threatening to go public.
Preynat says he swore then to Decourtray that he wouldn't touch any more children, and no other victims have come forward saying he abused them after 1991.
But Preynat also testified that the cardinal seemed uninterested in finding out exactly how much damage the priest had done during two decades of abuse.
"I told him that it was a long story, the drama of my life," Preynat said. "He made a movement with his arm so that I wouldn't tell him the facts."
Decourtray died in 1994.
After six months on the sidelines living with nuns, Preynat was given another parish in the Lyon countryside where he quietly ministered until 2015.
But his abuses weren't forgotten, either by his victims or the church.
Preynat said that in 2001 he was summoned again by Lyon's cardinal, then Louis-Marie Bille, who wanted to know whether his abuses were too old to be prosecuted.
"I was received for 10 minutes." Preynat testified. "He sent me to see a lawyer."
Bille died in 2002, replaced by Barbarin.
Aside from church superiors, Preynat said he also systematically spoke about his behavior in the confessional.
"I always confessed my faults," he said. "Every time the confessor gave me absolution and urged me not to start again. A month later, I'd start again."
Winter blues 0, joyful color 1.
Tulip growers in the Netherlands beat back winter — if only for a day — with a riotous explosion of color Saturday as they turned an Amsterdam square into a multi-colored feast for cold-dulled senses to mark National Tulip Day.
Several thousand people converged on Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace to enjoy and pick the 200,000 free tulips, making gorgeous bunches for themselves from the rainbow of vibrant colors on offer.
Each person was limited to 20 free flowers. Tulip growers helped visitors make their bouquets.
National Tulip Day marks the opening of the tulip season for the Netherlands' flower industry.
"I came with some of my friends and also my family just for this event, for the National Tulip Day, the start of the tulip season," Fuschia Ramadhanti, a visitor from Indonesia, said.
Flowers are a flourishing business in the Netherlands, the world's biggest tulip producer. The country annually grows between 1.7 and 2 billion tulips, which are exported to more than 100 countries worldwide.
Horticultural products such as fresh flowers, bulbs and plants were the highest-value Dutch agricultural sector in 2019, worth 9.5 billion euros.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that he opposes the idea of an unlimited term in office for the country's leader like the system that existed in the Soviet Union.
Putin's comment at a meeting with World War II veterans in St. Petersburg came days after he called for constitutional changes that could help him remain in power once his presidential term ends in 2024.
When a veteran at Saturday's meeting proposed not having term limits for Russia's president, Putin responded that "it would be very disturbing to return to the situation of the mid-1980s, with the leaders of the state, one by one, staying in power until the end of their days."
There has been uncertainty about Russia's future political course since Putin suggested in his Wednesday state-of-the-nation address amending the constitution to allow lawmakers to name prime ministers and Cabinet members. The president currently holds the authority to make those appointments.
Observers speculated that after increasing the powers of parliament and the Cabinet and curtailing presidential authority, Putin might repeat a strategy he used before to stay in charge - shifting into the prime minister's seat.
Putin first became president in 2000, and moved to the prime minister's office in 2008 when constitutional limits prevented him from seeking a third term. His chosen successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, was widely seen as less influential than Putin.
Medvedev, who became prime minister after Putin returned to the presidency, submitted his resignation Wednesday after Putin outlined his constitutional proposals. Putin named the head of the national tax service, a technocrat unlikely to chart an independent course, as the new premier.
The British government has announced plans for special events on the night of Jan. 31 when the country officially leaves the European Union but the country's treasury chief has admitted that some U.K. business sectors will suffer as a result.
Sajid Javid told the Financial Times in an interview Saturday that Britain's regulations will not be aligned with the EU in the future and that those changes may hurt some businesses. Currently the EU is Britain's largest trading partner.
"There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule-taker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union — and we will do this by the end of the year," he said, referring to a deadline at the end of 2020 for conclusion of what are expected to be contentious trade talks with the then-27 member EU.
Britain will officially leave the EU bloc on the night of Jan. 31, even though it will keep following EU rules for an 11-month transition period. It will be the first nation ever to leave the bloc. The British government plans to mark the occasion with a series of upbeat events.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to make a speech to the nation that night after holding a rare cabinet session in the north of England to emphasize his government's plan to spread opportunity to that economically beleaguered region.
The government also plans to mark Brexit by projecting a clock onto the prime minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street in London that will count down until 11 p.m., when the break takes place.
The entire government neighborhood of Whitehall is to be illuminated for the occasion as part of a light show, with Union flags flown on all the poles in Parliament Square. The government will also create a commemorative coin that will enter circulation that day.
But Johnson's Conservative government is no longer actively pushing a plan to have the familiar chimes of the Big Ben clock tower at Parliament sound at 11 p.m. despite a private fundraising push in support of activating the chimes, which are under repair.
Britain voted in a 2016 referendum to become the first nation to leave the 28-nation EU, but the process has moved more slowly than expected. A stalemate last year kept a withdrawal bill from passing, leading to a rare December election that gave Johnson's pro-Brexit Conservative Party a strong majority in Parliament.
The Brexit divorce bill quickly passed when the new Parliament convened. A transition period will last until the end of 2020 as negotiators try to forge a trade arrangement between Britain and the remaining EU nations.
Johnson, who is also seeking a trade deal with the United States, has ruled out seeking an extension of the deadline for the EU talks.
Demonstrators in Berlin called for more environment-friendly agriculture practices at a protest Saturday in Berlin that included farmers with more than 150 tractors.
Thousands of people gathered at the German capital's Brandenburg Gate for the protest under the motto "We've had enough." The protest, an annual event over the past decade, coincides with a yearly agriculture and food fair in the German capital called International Green Week.
Organizers said this year could "make or break the transition to sustainable, climate-friendly farming" and determine whether billions of euros in European Union subsidies "fund the transition towards sustainable farming or accelerate insect loss and climate change."
Supporters on Saturday included environmental and animal protection groups. The demonstration came days after two beekeepers staged a sticky protest outside Germany's Agriculture Ministry against the continued use of a controversial herbicide.
Germany, like other European countries, recently has seen protests by farmers complaining that planned new environmental limits are overly restrictive. In November, about 10,000 farmers with 5,000 tractors snarled traffic in Berlin, and the following month Dutch farmers and construction workers protested against government moves to cut pollution that they say hurt their businesses.
Around 400 tractors drove into the capital on Friday in a similarly themed but much less disruptive protest.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet in September decided on a series of environmental proposals, including tighter restrictions on the use of pesticides and herbicides to protect insects and on fertilizers to protect groundwater.