Catholic campaigners condemned as "shocking" a decision by Pope Francis not to accept the resignation of a French archbishop who was given a suspended prison sentence this month for failing to report the sexual abuse of boy scouts by a known predatory priest.
Tuesday's surprise decision came just a month after the Vatican convened an unprecedented conference of cardinals in which it pledged to get tough on priests who abuse children and the bishops who cover up for them.
French cardinal Philippe Barbarin travelled to Rome on Monday and offered his resignation to Pope Francis.
But on Tuesday the Vatican announced that the Argentinian pontiff had decided to reject the resignation.
While the Vatican offered no explanation, it seems likely that the Pope wants to wait to see the outcome of an appeal that the 68-year-old archbishop intends to launch against his six-month sentence.
But the decision was condemned by groups representing survivors of clerical sex abuse from around the world.
"I'm stunned by this decision. It is shocking and depressing," Anne Barrett Doyle, the head of the US-based organisation Bishop Accountability, told The Telegraph.
"It reveals the Pope's very narrow concept of accountability. It is a reminder to bishops that they have nothing to fear from this Pope. It is a profound and disastrous misreading of what is required to address this crisis."
Just last month, during a four-day conference at the Vatican attended by bishops and archbishops from around the world, the Pope said that "no abuse must ever be covered up, as has happened in the past".
In a statement, Barbarin, the most senior French Catholic to have been swept up in the Church's sex abuse scandal, said: "On Monday I handed over my mission to the Holy Father. He spoke of the presumption of innocence and did not accept this resignation."
Barbarin said that he would step back from his role as archbishop of Lyon "for a little while", allowing his deputy to stand in for him.
Even the Bishops' Conference of France - the country's most senior Catholic body - said it was surprised by the decision, which it described as "unheard of".
Barbarin was convicted earlier this month of failing to act against Bernard Preynat, a priest who has confessed to abusing boy scouts in the 1980s and 1990s. Preynat is expected to be put on trial later this year.
Barbarin became archbishop of Lyon in 2002 and learned of Preynat's abuse of boys but let him remain in ministry until 2015, said Bishop Accountability.
French victims of clerical abuse also reacted with outrage to the papal decision.
"I think that man (the Pope) is going to manage to kill off the church. It's a mistake too many," said Francois Devaux, a co-founder of a victims' organisation.
Faith in the Catholic Church has plunged as a result of its failure over two decades to address sex abuse perpetrated by clergy.
Last week George Pell, the Australian cardinal who was once the third most powerful figure in the Vatican, was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of abusing two altar boys in Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral in the 1990s.
He also intends to appeal and remains a cardinal, despite being behind bars.
Campaign groups were profoundly disappointed when last month's Vatican conference on combating sexual abuse failed to come up with any new, concrete initiatives to address the crisis.