BEIRUT: Friends and family of Mansour Labaki, a Lebanese priest convicted of child molestation, called on the Maronite Church to intervene and allow for an appeal. “[We] implore the Maronite Church,” said Bassam Barrak, a journalist and member of the Friends of Labaki Association.
“Our appeal is meant for Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, Beirut Bishop Boulos Matar, Father Labaki’s friends in the priesthood and the father’s students, many of whom have become bishops. We appeal to you one by one,” he added.
Barrak also called on Rai to urge Pope Francis to permit Labaki to appeal his sentence.
Bkirki’s spokesperson told The Daily Star last week that the Maronite Church would not comment on the issue and would not do so in the near future.
Barrak, along with Arz Labaki, the priest’s nephew, and George Nakhle, who spent his childhood under the priest’s custody in France, held a news conference at the Baabdat Municipality to proclaim his innocence.
Labaki, a Maronite priest, author and composer, is known in both Lebanon and France for his charity work, particularly with orphans.
He has founded two orphanages in Lebanon and one in France, and has won 15 international book prizes.
According to media reports published in the French-Christian magazine La Croix and the Vatican Radio website, Labaki, 73, was convicted of sexually abusing more than three children as well as soliciting sex. He has been sentenced to a “life of prayer.”
The magazine reported that the convicted priest would be banned from carrying out ecclesiastical duties and making appearances in public, and from speaking to his victims.
Arz Labaki said that investigations into allegations of molestation against the priest began at the Parisian ecclesiastical court in September 2010, after three women claimed he had molested them.
The report of the allegation was referred from the French church authorities to the Vatican in December 2011.
Labaki’s conviction was issued in April 2012.
The priest launched an appeal in June of that year, but it was rejected. Maronite Archbishop of Beirut Boulos Matar had informed Labaki last July that the ruling was final and that his case had been closed.
According to Labaki’s nephew, an appeal date has not been set, a procedure that he added was “every person’s right,” and an investigation was never carried out to cross-check the accounts of the witnesses that had been presented to French authorities.
“[The case] is strange, both pre-meditated and violent,” Nakhle said, adding that his testimony, along with that of other students once under Labaki’s care, served to support the case of the convicted priest.
Nakhle told The Daily Star he knew two of the alleged victims personally and stressed that he had not witnessed any inappropriate behavior on Labaki’s part during his time at the orphanage in France.
“Unfortunately, some weak souls have succumbed to pressure and fallen into the trap of lying, so the lie grew,” he said at the news conference.
“The gravest danger today is what these accusers are seeking, which is the destruction of this generous Lebanese Maronite priest, and the destruction and distortion of our childhoods.”
A website aiming to support the victims was blocked in Lebanon.