The Archbishop of Lyon and Primate of the Gauls, who claimed marriage rights for same-sex couples could lead to incest and polygamy, says his comments to a radio station were misinterpreted, but has stopped short of making an apology.

Over the weekend, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin told RCF Christian radio that legalising same-sex marriage would herald a complete “breakdown in society”.

He went on to say: “This could have innumerable consequences. Afterwards they will want to create couples with three or four members. And after that, perhaps one day the taboo of incest will fall”.

Bertrand Delanoe, the Socialist mayor of Paris and one of France’s few openly gay politicians, strongly criticised Cardinal Barbarin and described the comments as “shocking” and “down right ugly”.

According to AFP, earlier today, the cardinal said that opposing same-sex marriage did not make religious leaders homophobic.

“They [gay people] are building the kingdom of heaven as much if not better than me,” he told France Info radio. “They are struggling to be faithful, to be Christians, each in their own way because we are all poor sinners,” the cardinal said.

According to France’s The Local news site, the cardinal said the overall tone of his original comments had been misrepresented, but he stopped short of apologising for his remarks.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira announced details of a marriage equality bill, due to go in front of the French cabinet for approval, last week.