French court acquits priest on rape charge

LONS-LE-SAUNIER (AFP) - A French court on Thursday acquitted a 69-year-old priest charged with raping a devout and vulnerable parishioner.

Daniel Lagnien was accused of taking advantage of the woman described as psychologically frail with no sexual experience, in a case with the potential to inflict further damage on the reputation of the Roman Catholic clergy after years of sexual scandals.

The prosecution had alleged that Mr Lagnien made advances to the 39-year-old virgin during a 2010 pilgrimage to a shrine in the French Alps.

Several days later, she went to the priest's home in Moirans-en-Montagne, Jura seeking an explanation of his behaviour.

Instead, the prosecution said, she was taken into a bedroom and raped.

Mr Lagnien said he had not forced his parishioner into sex, and believed that she had consented.

"In delivering this verdict, the court took the view that, on the evidence, it could not know what really happened in that room," said Mr Lagnien's lawyers Randall Schwerdorffer and Samuel Esteve after the trial in the eastern Jura region.

The result was "a great relief and a liberation" for Mr Lagnien, they said.

Mr Schwerdorffer said before the verdict his client had repeatedly apologised to the woman.

"This is about two sexually inexperienced individuals who did not have the same expectations. They met and had an unsatisfactory relationship, intellectually and physically, and they do not see it the same way," the lawyer said.