A South African cardinal has said paedophilia is not "a criminal condition", but a psychological illness.
The church is still dealing with historic international evidence of sexual abuse by priests and allegations of a cover-up.
As recently as this month, the BBC claimed to have seen evidence that bishops in the Catholic Church in Scotland knew about 20 allegations of child sex abuse by priests between 1985 and 1995.
Wilfrid Fox Napier, The Catholic Archbishop of Durban, told BBC Radio 5 Live that people who were abused during childhood and became paedophiles were not criminally responsible for their actions in the same way as somebody "who chooses to do something like that".
Cardinal Napier was among the 115 cardinals in the Vatican conclave that elected Pope Francis earlier this week. He called paedophilia a "psychological disorder."
He said: "What do you do with disorders? You have got to try and put them right. If I as a normal being choose to break the law knowing that I am breaking the law, then I think I need to be punished.
"From my experience paedophilia is actually an illness. It is not a criminal condition, it is an illness."
The cardinal mentioned two priests he knew who were abused as children and went on to become paedophiles.
He told the BBC: "Don't tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that.
"I don't think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished when he was himself damaged."
Barbara Dorries, from the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who was herself abused as a child by a priest, told the BBC: "If it is a disease that's fine, but it's also a crime and crimes are punished. Criminals are held accountable for what they did and what they do.
"The bishops and the cardinals have gone to great lengths to cover these crimes to enable the predators to move on, to not be arrested, to keep the secrets within the church."