Barbarin: Outspoken cardinal charged with paedophile cover-up

Cardinal Barbarin flanked by lawyers as he arrives in court in Lyon (AFP Photo/JEFF PACHOUD)
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Marjorie Boyet and Clare Byrne
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Lyon (AFP) - Philippe Barbarin, the French cardinal convicted on Thursday for failing to report the sexual abuse of minors by a priest in his diocese, is a conservative cleric who has made headlines for his blunt and controversial comments.

The 68-year-old archbishop of Lyon is one of the best-known figures in France's Catholic Church -- and its most senior figure to be caught up in a paedophile scandal.

Before his conviction, he was accused of ignoring the suffering of victims -- until they went public with their stories, plunging the Catholic Church into a deep crisis.

"It's true that I was slow to wake up," he admitted to Le Parisien newspaper in December 2016.

Earlier that year, he was criticised for being insensitive to victims at a press conference when discussing allegations he covered up for a paedophile priest.

"The majority of the acts come under the statute of limitations, thank God," he said at the time.

Barbarin, who has always denied shielding the priest, called the remark a "language error".

- 'Cool Christianity has no future' -

A cerebral figure who has written several books, including one entitled "Dieu est-il perime?" -- or "Has God reached his sell-by date?" -- he has taken an unbending stance on Church orthodoxy.

"It's not my problem if there are few Christians left in France. My problem is that we Christians are not Christian enough," he said on taking up his post in 2002.

"I know that some might find it shocking but I'll say it again: cool Christianity has no future."

In 2012 and 2013, he fiercely opposed a same-sex marriage bill that brought hundreds of thousands of conservative Catholics onto the streets of France.

"Next, they'll want three- or four-way couples and after that, maybe someday, I don't know, the ban on incest will be scrapped," he argued on TLM channel -- remarks which again drew criticism.

- 'Happiest' in Paris suburbs -

Born into a well-heeled family of 11 children in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, Barbarin was ordained as a priest in 1977.

His first parish was the working-class Paris suburb of Creteil, where he spent nearly 17 years.

In a 2012 interview with Paris Match magazine, he described that time as "the happiest" of his priesthood.

In 1994, he made the leap to the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, a former French colony where he taught at a seminary for four years and was affected by the grinding poverty he witnessed.

On his return to France, he was named bishop of the central diocese of Moulins before becoming archbishop of Lyon in 2002. A year later, he was made a cardinal.

In their book on the Catholic Church in Lyon, authors Jean Comby and Bernard Berthod described him as "a bishop of the John Paul II generation" who had embraced modern communication -- Barbarin tweets regularly -- while remaining unyielding on sexual morality.

He was seen as close to Pope Francis, whom he will see in the next few days to submit his resignation.

Barbarin has repeatedly spoken out about the threats facing Christians in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, where many have fled persecution by Islamic State fundamentalists, particularly in Syria and Iraq.

In 2014, he announced that Lyon was twinned with the city of Mosul in Iraqi Kurdistan -- a sanctuary for Christians and other minorities who fled the Islamic State further south.