Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, gives the homily at the World Youth Day opening Mass in Sydney July 15. He called on young pilgrims to strengthen their commitment to Christ. (CNS photo/PaulCNS/Paul Haring

Australia’s most senior-ranked Cardinal George Pell has apologized for his controversial and offensive statements about Jews. During a televised debate with Richard Dawkins, Cardinal Pell asserted that Jews “weren’t intellectually the equal” of other cultures in times past.

The Irish Independent reports on the Cardinal Pell’s comments during the debate and his ultimate apology. The debate between Cardinal Pell, who is the Archbishop in Sydney, and Richard Dawkins drew large audiences, but the winner of the matchup is still disputed.

"I've got a great admiration for the Jews but we don't need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days," said Cardinal Pell during the live debate. "They weren't intellectually the equal of [the Egyptians or Persians] – intellectually, morally ... The poor – the little Jewish people, they were originally shepherds. They were stuck. They're still stuck between these great powers."

Cardinal Pell then went on to suggest that the Germans suffered more than the Jews during the Holocaust. When Cardinal Pell was asked why he thought God allowed for the Holocaust to happen, he responded: “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 the debate host suggested that the Jews had suffered more than the Germans, 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."

After the debate, Cardinal Pell offered a statement intended to clarify  his stance on the Jewish population and make it understood that he did not mean to offend anyone.

"Historically or culturally unequal might have been more appropriate than intellectually," said Cardinal Pell in his apology. "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. This was certainly not my intention, and I am sorry that these points which I tried to make ... did not come out as I would have preferred in the course of the discussion."