A group representing self-declared survivors of clerical paedophilia has called for one of Pope Francis' top advisors to be stripped of his immunity so he can face prosecution over accusations that he helped to conceal alleged sexual abuse by a French priest.

The announcement comes a day after Pope Francis rejected the resignation of a French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin who was given a six-month suspended jail sentence a fortnight ago for failing to report the allegations against the priest.

The pope's decision drew sharp condemnation from alleged victims of Bernard Preynat, the priest who is charged with abusing dozens of boy scouts in the south-eastern Lyon area in the 1980s and 1990s.

Francois Devaux, head of an association of people claiming they were abused by Preynat said the group was now pursuing efforts to bring a Spanish cardinal, Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the head of the Vatican's powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to trial.

Mr Devaux said the association had sent a letter to the prosecutor's office in Lyon asking that the Vatican lift Cardinal Ladaria's immunity for allegedly advising Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, not to report Preynat to the authorities.

Mr Davaux and four other survivors succeeded in launching a private prosecution of Cardinal Barbarin after a court decided in 2016 to throw out the case because of insufficient evidence.

On Monday, the archbishop of Lyon met the pope at the Vatican and offered his resignation, but the pontiff refused it pending the outcome of his appeal against conviction.

The cardinal, who is 68, said that he would remain in Lyon pending the court appeal, but that he would step back from his job "for a little while".

He told France's KTO television that he would stay out of day-to-day activities for a while, depending on the court appeal process, although he would remain head of the dioceses in title and would continue to sign off on documents.

He added that he decided to take a step back to allow the dioceses to heal and turn the page.

"I think that my dioceses has been suffering a lot for along time," Cardinal Barbarin told KTO television.

"I was also particularly touched by one of the victims who said during the trial that... yes, you have been suffering for around three to four years. Do you realise that we have been suffering for around 30 to 40 years. That was painful to hear," he said.

Pope causes French dismay

Pope Francis's response to the guilty finding against Cardinal Barbarin has caused an outcry in France, coming at a time when the Catholic Church is struggling to win trust in its efforts to fight child sexual abuse.

Yesterday, the president of the Bishops' Conference of France, expressed "surprise" at the pontiff's decision not to let Barbarin resign.

"I did not expect this scenario," Marseille archbishop Georges Pontier told AFP.

Today, others joined him in expressing their incomprehension, or even opposition to the decision.

Among them was Patric Terrace, chief editor of the Catholic weekly "Golias", who said he was "totally dismayed", especially as the pope had spoken of his "zero tolerance" for sexual abuse in the church.

"We see that he has neither the political will nor the political vision to deal with these cases," Terrace said.

The focus will now likely shift to how the Vatican deals with the request for Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer's immunity to be lifted.

During Barbarin's trial in Lyon, the prosecution had wanted the Spanish cardinal to testify, but the Vatican refused, citing his immunity.

He is the second Vatican official facing pressure to answer questions in France recently.

Last week, the Paris prosecutor's office asked the Holy See to lift the diplomatic immunity of its envoy to France, archbishop Luigi Ventura.

Ventura, 74, a papal nuncio, is facing four complaints of sexual abuse in France, including an allegation he molested a junior official at the Paris city hall.