The head of Australia's Catholic Church apologised for what Jewish leaders described as "deeply problematical" comments he made about Jews during a public debate.
Cardinal George Pell said last week during a debate with renowned atheist Richard Dawkins on Q&A, a highly regarded current affairs talk show aired on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, that the Jews were intellectually and morally inferior to the ancient Egyptians.
"I've got a great admiration for the Jews but we don't need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days," he said. "They weren't intellectually the equal of [the Egyptians or Persians] - intellectually, morally... The poor - the little Jewish people, they were originally shepherds."
But in a clarifying statement, Cardinal Pell said he would "never describe the Jewish people at any stage as morally inferior to their pagan neighbours".
Cardinal Pell also seemed to suggest that Germans suffered more than Jews during the Holocaust.
Asked why God allowed the Holocaust to occur, Cardinal Pell said: "He helped probably through secondary causes for the Jews to escape and continue. It is interesting through these secondary causes probably no people in history have been punished the way the Germans were. It is a terrible mystery."
When challenged by the moderator that the Jews had suffered more, Cardinal Pell said: "Yes, that might be right. Certainly the suffering in both, I mean the Jews, there was no reason why they should suffer."
In his statement, Cardinal Pell said the Holocaust was "a crime unique in history for the death and suffering it caused and its diabolical attempt to wipe out an entire people.
"My commitment to friendship with the Jewish community, and my esteem for the Jewish faith is a matter of public record, and the last thing I would want to do is give offence to either," he added.
Peter Wertheim, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said: "We welcome as a first step Cardinal Pell's clarifying statement that he did not intend any offence."