The head of the Catholic Church in Belgium has said that AIDS is “intrinsic justice” for homosexuality.

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard also said that elderly priests found to have sexually abused children should not be punished.

His spokesman Juergen Mettepenningen resigned over his boss’ remarks, AFP reports.

Writing in a recently-released book on religious thought, Archbishop Leonard suggested that nature takes “vengeance” on those who “mistreat human love”.

He is also said to have called homosexuality a travesty of nature.

Discussing HIV-positive people, he said: “When you mistreat the environment it ends up mistreating us in turn. And when you mistreat human love, perhaps it winds up taking vengeance.

“All I’m saying is that sometimes there are consequences linked to our actions,” the archbishop said, saying of AIDS, “this epidemic is a sort of intrinsic justice.”

At a press conference, Mr Mettepenningen said of his former boss: “Monsignor Leonard at times acts like a motorist driving on the wrong side of a freeway who thinks all the other motorists are wrong.”

Archbishop Leonard also courted controversy with remarks on Catholic priests accused of paedophilia.

Speaking on television last week, he said such priests should be spared punishment, which he termed “a sort of vengeance”.

He said: “Priests who abused children in their care must be made aware of what they did but if they’re no longer working, if they have no responsibilities, I’m not sure that exercising a sort of vengeance that will have no concrete result is humane.”

Other bishops claimed that Archbishop Leonard’s comments were his personal views.

Several days after the television interview, the Archbishop said he did believe that paedophile priests should be punished.