Bertrand Delanoe, the Socialist mayor of Paris and one of France’s few openly gay politicians, has strongly criticised the Archbishop of Lyon and Primate of the Gauls for making a series of outspoken remarks about equal marriage.

According to the Telegraph, over the weekend, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin told RCF Christian radio that it 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”.

The cardinal then spoke of his interpretation of religious scripture: “The first page of the bible, which says that marriage unites a man and a woman, has more force and truth, crossing cultures and centuries, than incidental or transient decisions made by a parliament. This is a choice of the government with which we do not agree.”

In response, Mr Delanoe said: “It is very shocking and even surprising coming from him, because he is someone I consider a wise man,” adding “I don’t know what came over him, he flipped his lid a little bit and what he said was downright ugly.”

After announcing last week details of a bill to establish equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, the French government was criticised by some gay rights campaigners for failing to make fertility provisions for lesbian couples.