Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier says people sexually abused as children who become abusers themselves should receive treatment, not jail, the BBC reported Friday.
Pedophilia, Napier said, is a "psychological condition, a disorder."
He said he knew priests who had become pedophiles after being abused.
"I don't think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished," the cardinal said. "He was himself damaged."
Barbara Dorris, who was abused by a priest when she was a child, said pedophilia may be a disease but it still needs to be punished.
"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," said Dorris, who works as outreach director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.