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By Associated Press

MADRID — Prosecutors said Friday they are investigating a Spanish archbishop for possible criminal hate speech because of remarks he made recently about the gay community.

The Valencia's provincial prosecutor's office said it was studying a recent speech made by Valencia Archbishop Antonio Canizares in which he said "powers such as the gay empire" promoted the rise of movements against the Christian family.

Cardinal Antonio Llovera address the congregation at the beginning of the prayer.Michael Debets / Corbis via Getty Images

Canizares also hit out at feminists and gender ideology.

The remarks raised much criticism and a regional LGBT group and 50 other groups filed a complaint.

News reports said the cardinal later issued a letter of apology, saying he had been misinterpreted. The prosecutors' office has six months to decide whether the case merits prosecution.

The offense is punishable by up to three years in prison.

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There was no immediate comment from the archbishop's office Friday.

Canizares, 70, stirred a similar controversy last year when he criticized the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe. He later apologized for the remarks.

A key protege of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, Canizares was removed from an important post in the Vatican's liturgy office and sent back to Spain in 2014 by Pope Francis.

The liturgy office regulates how Masses and other sacraments are celebrated, and under Benedict's papacy took on a more conservative and traditional bent.