A French priest has sparked outrage after suggesting that children abused by members of the Catholic Church may have invited tenderness from their abusers.

Alain de la Morandais, 83, prompted a storm of criticism and outrage following his comments during a TV show aired on a French station.

“We always have the impression that it is a rape, that there is violence. But I do not always think so,” the priest told the TV host.

“According to what I have heard, a child instinctively seeks tenderness from a man or a woman… and often they are children who lack tenderness (in their lives).”

The show’s host rebutted by saying that it was the adult’s responsibility to set boundaries.

"Of course,” he agreed. “But the child is going to look for tenderness. You have all seen that a child can come and kiss you on the mouth.”

That prompted gasps from the audience and a firm “no, no, no” from the host.

Fr de la Morandais was speaking as part of a panel discussing sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

Apart from his controversial comments – which the archbishop of Paris said he “absolutely condemned” – the priest also said that he had tried to warn superiors about abuse within the Church but had been ignored.

Earlier this month, French cardinal Phillipe Barbarin was convicted of covering up sexual abuse committed by another priest. Pope Francis has rejected cardinal Barbarin’s offer to resign.

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