A former Oxford professor, Richard Dawkins, has said that raising a child Catholic is worse than child abuse and that the "mental torment" inflicted by Catholic teachings is worse than any sexual abuse from priests, reports the Daily Mail.
Dawkins is an atheist biologist whose 1976 book "The Selfish Gene" revolutionized the theory of evolution.
His remarks were to be broadcast this weekend by Qatar-based TV network Al Jazzeera.
When asked by interviewer Mehdi Hasan about previous comments he made, Dawkins said: "Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place."
Hasan asked: "You believe that being bought up as a Catholic is worse than being abused by a priest?"
Dawkins replied: "There are shades of being abused by a priest, and I quoted an example of a woman in America who wrote to me saying that when she was seven years old she was sexually abused by a priest in his car.
"At the same time a friend of hers, also seven, who was of a Protestant family, died, and she was told that because her friend was Protestant she had gone to Hell and will be roasting in Hell forever."
"She told me of those two abuses, she got over the physical abuse; it was yucky but she got over it.
"But the mental abuse of being told about Hell, she took years to get over."
Dawkins added: "It seems to me that telling children that they really, really believe that people who sin are going to go to Hell and roast forever – that your skin grows again when it peels off with burning – it seems to me to be intuitively entirely reasonable that that is a worse form of child abuse, that will give more nightmares, that will give more genuine distress because they really believe."
Politicians and activists have condemned Dawkins for what they call attention-seeking and "unhelpful" remarks.
Peter Saunders, the chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: "At NAPAC we know that recovery from sexual abuse can take a lifetime. People never get over it. It is entirely unhelpful to make such comparisons."
Roman Catholic former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said: "Dawkins doesn’t know what to say next to get attention. No sane person would believe that being brought up in a force for good, in the Ten Commandments, in the Beatitudes, and in the Gospels can be worse than child abuse."