Top French Catholic cleric denies covering up acts of paedophilia

French Archbishop Philippe Barbarin leads the traditional procession to Mary, in Lyon, France, December 8, 2015. Picture taken December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Pratta (Reuters)

PARIS (Reuters) - One of France's most senior Catholic clerics on Tuesday denied having covered up acts of paedophilia, his second denial in two weeks, after Prime Minister Manuel Valls demanded that he take responsibility for the situation. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin's initial denial came in a statement on March 4 after news that the Lyon prosecutor's office had opened an inquiry into complaints made against him and five other people. The prosecutor is investigating whether charges of failure to denounce a crime and endangering the lives of others could be made in the context of a paedophilia investigation involving 70-year-old priest Bernard Preynat. Preynat has been under investigation since January over allegations of sexual abuse of children between 1986 and 1991. "Never, never, never have I covered up the least pedophile act," the Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, said at a news conference in the southern French town of Lourdes where he was attending a twice-yearly meeting of bishops. Speaking on RMC Radio, Valls stopped short of calling for Barbarin's resignation but said he needed to "assume his responsibilities" and that "action as well as words" was required. Sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests first made the headlines in 2002, showing that U.S. bishops moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them. Similar scandals have since been discovered around the world and tens of millions of dollars have been paid in compensation. Polls show that about half of French people consider themselves Catholic, even though only about 15 percent of those or less consider themselves practicing Catholics or attend mass. (Reporting by Simon Carraud; Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Louise Ireland)