A FRENCH former priest accused of sexually abusing more than 70 young boys over a 30 year period has gone on trial.

In the worst case of abuse to come to light involving the Catholic church to date, Bernard Preynat is believed to have abused the boys while they attended Boy Scouts, or the church classes he ran.

Even after admitting, in the 1990s, that he was a “sick” man, Preynat, pictured centre, was allowed to continue in his role as a priest in the diocese of Lyon until last year, when French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was convicted of covering up for Preynat’s actions.

Several other church officials were also accused of failing to alert police or prosecutors of his actions, including a senior Vatican official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, but the Vatican intervened to shield Cardinal Ladaria from trial, invoking his immunity as an official of a sovereign state.

Preynat, now 74, appeared in court on Monday in Lyon on charges of sexual assault of 10 minors between 1986 and 1991. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Preynat is also accused of abusing dozens of others in the 1970s and 1980s, but those alleged incidents happened too long ago to prosecute.

The judge delayed the hearing until Tuesday because of a strike by lawyers angry over President Emmanuel Macron’s planned overhaul of the French pension system.

READ MORE: French government hints at compromise amid pension strikes

The general strikes against the raising of the pension age from 62 to 64 are now in their 41st day, although there is hope that the government and protesters may soon end after the prime minister sent the unions a letter offering a compromise.