The president of US civil rights organisation the Catholic League has said that priests who molest children are not paedophiles but simply gay.

Appearing on CNN’s New Day programme, the group’s president Bill Donohue insisted that: “When men have sex with adolescent men it’s called homosexuality. It is not paedophilia.”

Mr Donohue continued: “Less than 5 percent of the priests involved in molestation are paedophiles. I will never stop telling the truth. And the Pope never said we should either. I am against gay bashing, and saying that if you’re gay you’re going to be a molester.

“If 81 percent of the victims are male and 100 percent of the victimisers are male, and 78 percent of the victims are post-pubescent, the word in the English language is not paedophilia – it’s homosexuality.”

He also stated his belief that the Catholic Church had handled the abuse scandal poorly, saying: “I would have put these guys in in the slammer a long time ago. Instead, they think they can reform them. They sent them off to the psychiatrist.”

When asked by host Chris Cuomo how he knew the abusive priests were gay, Mr Donohue said: “I’ll say it again, most of the molesting priests were gay, and most gay priests are not molesters.

“If a man has sex with a man what would you call that?”

The comments come just a day after the Pope stated that the Catholic Church was “obsessed” with issues such as homosexuality and contraception, and that “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

The Catholic League says that its mission is to defend “the right of Catholics – lay and clergy alike – to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination.”