The 65-year-old archbishop of Lyon, Philippe Barbarin, has fiercely denied charges that he covered up paedophilia crimes
Lyon (AFP) - French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, accused of covering up sex abuse, is a hardline Catholic who has been outspoken against gay marriage and championed the cause of Christians persecuted in Iraq and Syria.
The 65-year-old archbishop of Lyon, France's second largest city, has fiercely denied charges that he covered up paedophilia crimes by failing to remove a priest in his diocese known to have abused Boy Scouts decades before he took up his post in 2002.
Barbarin is also accused of failing to act against another Lyon priest when it emerged in 2009 he had abused a boy in the past.
"I have never, never, never covered up acts of paedophilia," Barbarin said, adding that both cases had passed the legal statute of limitations when they were reported, adding an unfortunate "thank God".
He later apologised for his choice of words.
It was not the first time Barbarin had to backpedal on his own comments.
Speaking out against gay marriage as protests swept France in 2012, Barbarin said: "Next thing they will be wanting couples of two or three people ... then one day maybe, I don't know, the ban on incest will fall."
The cardinal has also been at the frontline of anti-abortion protests and is very popular in the more conservative wing in the French Church.
Barbarin was born on October 17, 1950, in Rabat, Morocco, into a family of 11 children.
Despite taking a hard line on some issues, he also has a progressive side, being passionate about social issues and open to inter-religious dialogue.
He has often appeared alongside the head of the Lyon Grand Mosque Kamel Kabtane and co-wrote a book with France's chief rabbi.
Barbarin has also championed the cause of the Roma people and met with illegal migrants.
- No to 'cool Christianity' -
However while he handles social media with ease, Barbarin is proudly conservative.
"If there are not a lot of Christians in France, it is not my problem. My problem is that we who are Christians are not Christian enough," he said when he arrived in Lyon.
"I know this shocks but I will repeat it: cool Christianity has no future."
A book on the history of the Church in Lyon describes Barbarin as "a bishop of the John Paul II generation".
Barbarin studied philosophy and theology and was ordained a priest in Paris in 1977, where he stayed for 17 years before leaving to Madagascar.
He then became bishop of Moulins in the centre of France, before becoming archbishop of Lyon in 2002. The Polish pontiff John Paul made him a cardinal in 2003.
A big fan of Tintin, Barbarin is also a keen runner.
The media-friendly cardinal has sought to make the Church more visible, and has visited Iraq and Syria several times to raise awareness over the plight of persecuted Christians there.
Barbarin is also the author of several books, including one published in 2015 entitled "Dieu Est-Il Perime?" (Is God Past His Sell-by-Date?).