Survivors of sexual abuse have reacted angrily to comments by a Roman Catholic cardinal that paedophilia is an illness and not a criminal condition.

Archbishop of Durban in South Africa Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier made the remarks in a BBC interview.

The cardinal took part in the election of Pope Francis.

He was asked what the new pontiff could do to repair damage to the Catholic Church's reputation caused by the way it dealt with sexual abuse by priests.

He said paedophilia was an illness, not a criminal condition, and questioned whether someone with such a psychological defect automatically deserved to be punished.

The cardinal spoke of 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."

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland has said it finds the comments of Cardinal Fox Napier unhelpful and a strategy to avoid the fact that this is a crime.

Spokesperson Cliona Saidlear said it noticed that categorisations of paedophilia come into discussion when there is a way to deflect conversation about responsibility.

She also said it would question why this is being raised at this point by the cardinal.

Ms Saidler added that the psychiatric grouping of the perpetrator does not add anything to the discourse.