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French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says Cardinal Philippe Barbarin must "take responsibility" over an alleged pedophilia cover up. He is one of six people implicated in an investigation into a 70-year-old priest.
Valls told BFM TV on Tuesday that without wanting to overrule the Church or judges investigating the case, Barbarin "must take responsibility, speak and act."
He stopped short of calling for Barbarin's resignation but said "action, as well as words" were required.
Barbarin hit back at a press conference later, insisting for a second time: "I have never covered up pedophilia," although he admitted he had made mistakes.
The scandal relates to an investigation into an elderly priest, Bernard Preynat, who was charged in January with historic child sex abuse.
Several victims have come forward making claims dating back to the 1980s. One of them, who was allegedly abused while in the Scouts, filed a complaint after he realized that the priest was still in service in 2015.
Prosecutors say Preynat has admitted the charges and was finally removed from service in May last year. But when the claims were initially investigated, he was just briefly suspended and then moved to another parish. Other victims have since come forward claiming to have been abused between 1986 and 1991.
Complaints have been filed against several senior officials in the Lyon diocese in eastern France, including Lyon archbishop Barbarin, accusing them of being aware of the abuse but failing to report the priest.
Barbarin has argued he was not Archbishop when the first complaints emerged against Preynat.
The Cardinal said he learned of Preynat's "behaviors" in 2007 or 2008, and met with him "to ask if, since 1991, anything had happened; he assured me there had been absolutely nothing."
French prosecutors are investigating whether charges of failure to denounce a crime and endangering the lives of others could be made in the context of the pedophilia investigation.
Another cover-up accusation has recently emerged against Barbarin. An alleged victim has pressed charges against the cardinal, saying he was sexually abused at the age of 16 by another Lyon priest who was still in service.
The man, now 42, made a complaint against the priest in 2009, and French media reported that he had met with Barbarin, who allegedly admitted that the priest involved had a problem. But nothing was done to remove the priest from service.
The Vatican has backed the cardinal, saying he had shown "a great deal of responsibility" in dealing with the matter.
The Catholic Church continues to be dogged by cases of priests abusing young children and past cover-ups, despite Pope Francis' promise of a crackdown.
Similar accusations have surrounded Australian Cardinal George Pell.
mm/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)