Paris: French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday, urged a cardinal who was accused of covering up the sexual abuse of young boys by a priest, to "take responsibility". The case has deeply embarrassed the French Church.
The cardinal in question, Philippe Barbarin, hit back, insisting at a press conference, "I have never covered up pedophilia."
The latest abuse scandal hit the Catholic Church when priest Bernard Preynat was charged in January, after victims came forward with claims he had sexually abused Scouts between 1986 and 1991.
Prosecutors say he has admitted the charges.
The victims have filed complaints 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.
Valls told BFM TV that without seeking to take the place of the Church or judges looking at the case, "The only message I have... is that (Barbarin) must take responsibility, speak and act."
Barbarin has argued he was not archbishop at the time when the first complaints emerged against Preynat - who was briefly suspended and then moved to another parish.
Accusations were made against Preynat only when a victim who was allegedly abused in the 1980s realised in 2015 that the priest was still in service. Other victims have since come forward.
The case recalls the recent Oscar-winning film "Spotlight", which highlighted how the Church transferred deviant priests between parishes in Boston in the US.
While this practice is no longer commonplace, the French case raises the question of how deep Church authorities should dig into abuse cases lurking in their past.
Barbarin has said he learned of Preynat's "behaviours" in 2007 or 2008, and met with him "to ask if, since 1991,
anything had happened; he assured me there had been absolutely nothing.
"Some blame me for believing him... Yes, I believed him," Barbarin said in an interview with a Catholic newspaper.
The diocese removed Preynat from service in May 2015.
The Vatican has backed the cardinal, saying he had shown "a great deal of responsibility" in dealing with the matter.
But as the scandal took centre-stage at a meeting of France's 120 bishops in Lourdes, southwestern France, new
accusations emerged against Barbarin.