Comedian Bill Maher stopped short of apologizing Friday night for accusing Pope Benedict XVI of being a Nazi, but he said he'd refrain in the future from drawing that connection.
"I will never make 'the pope is a Nazi' joke again," Maher said on his HBO show, "Real Time With Bill Maher."
Maher then returned to criticizing the Catholic Church for its clergy sex abuse scandal, saying the pope would be in jail if he were the executive of a chain of day-care centers where similar abuse was found.
It isn't out of character for Maher to skewer Catholicism on his show, but his April 11 rant about the pope's visit to the United States prompted a group of politicians to send a letter to HBO President Sue Naegle saying Maher had "crossed the line of decency."
Catholic League President Bill Donohue said Maher "lied when he said the Pope 'used to be a Nazi.' Like all young men in Germany at the time, he was conscripted into a German Youth organization (from which he fled as soon as he could). Every responsible Jewish leader has acknowledged this reality and has never sought to brand the pope a Nazi. That job falls to Maher."
Maher also has drawn criticism for comparing the Catholic Church to the polygamist sect recently in the news for the alleged abuse of hundreds of girls at a Texas compound.
On his latest show, he explained that the Nazi comment was "a joke. We were in a comedic context," but he acknowledged that he was "technically" wrong.
"You got me," Maher said. "The pope was not a Nazi when he was a teenager. He was in the Hitler Youth, which meant that he said the oath directly to Hitler and not to the Nazis, which is sort of worse."
He then noted that teenagers were forced to join the Hitler Youth, often against their will.