VERSAILLES, France (AP) _ A historian testifying Friday in the trial of Paul Touvier said the former pro-Nazi militiaman was sheltered by clergymen who acted out of charity and ignorance of his wartime activities.

Touvier, 78, is the first Frenchman to face trial for crimes against humanity, allegedly committed while he was chief of intelligence of the Vichy militia, which collaborated with Nazi Germany.

He is charged with ordering the execution of seven Jewish prisoners at Rilleux-la-Pape in June 1944. The killings were to avenge the assassination by Resistance fighters of an official in occupied France's Vichy government.

Touvier avoided capture for 45 years, and his family remained underground with him. He was arrested in 1989 in a Nice priory.

Rene Remond, author of a book on Touvier and the Roman Catholic Church, said many of the monasteries and convents that hid Touvier and his family had offered protection to downed English pilots, Jews and Resistance fighters during World War II.

''In the early days after war ended, there was a good chance that if the clergymen had not helped Touvier, he would have been shot down in the street,'' Remond, a prominent French historian, told the packed courtroom.

Touvier, twice condemned to death in absentia for treason, calmly observed the proceedings from a glass-enclosed booth in the court.

He faces life imprisonment if convicted. The trial began March 17.

Remond wrote his 1992 book at the behest of Cardinal Albert Decourtray, Archbishop of Lyon, who sought to clarify the church's role in the Touvier affair.

Remond insisted that wartime Roman Catholic officials did not harbor Nazi sympathies or sanction the militia's relentless pursuit of Jews and Resistance fighters.

Earlier, Touvier's wife, Monique Berthet, and their two children, Chantal, and Pierre, took the stand.

Berthet, 68, told the court she did not regret her life on the run with Touvier and their two children.

''My life, perhaps, was difficult, but I do not regret it,'' she said. ''Because I had a husband whom I loved, and still love very much and two children whom I'm particularly proud of. If I had it to do over again, I would.''

Touvier showed no emotion as his wife spoke.

Both Pierre, 44, and Chantal, 46, said Touvier, whom they called ''papillon,'' or butterfly, was a doting father whose life was ruined by a biased media campaign launched after President Georges Pompidou pardoned him in 1971.

After Pompidou's pardon, outraged Resistance and Jewish groups brought new charges against Touvier, and the family returned underground.

The children said they were forced to terminate their law studies before earning degrees because they received death threats.

Both children are single, unemployed, and live with their parents, surviving on gifts from friends and monthly stipends from various Roman Catholic groups.

Anne-Marie Dupuy, who headed Pompidou's staff, testified Thursday that the late president pardoned Touvier at the behest of Roman Catholic Church officials with the welfare of Touvier's children in mind.