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Germany's top rabbit breeder said Tuesday that he was "misunderstood" when he was quoted as saying Pope Francis had offended rabbit breeders by comparing Catholics who have more children than they can handle to rabbits. But he did accuse the pope of not knowing very much about rabbits.

On his flight back to Rome on Monday, Francis reiterated the church's opposition to government population control programs as a form of "ideological colonization." But he stressed that it's a misconception to "think — excuse me if I use the word — that to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits."

Tuesday, Erwin Leowsky, president of Zentralverband Deutscher Rasse-Kaninchenzüchter — or the Central Association of German Rabbit Breeders — was widely quoted as having told a German news agency that Francis' remarks had caused offense to rabbit breeders.

In a statement posted late Tuesday on the association's website, Leowsky said he had been bombarded by emails that indicated that his remarks were "powerfully misunderstood." He said that while he personally believed that "it is unacceptable that the reproduction of the world's poorest people is compared with the reproduction of rabbits," he wanted to make it clear that he was speaking only as a private person, not as a representative of the breeders' association.

In any event, rabbit breeders likely wouldn't be offended by the comparison because only wild rabbits reproduce prolifically, Leowsky said. The reproduction of domestically bred rabbits is carefully controlled, and "I clearly explained [to the German interviewer] that our breeders' rabbits have nothing to do with wild rabbits," he said.

Still, he said in the statement, "it is worrying if the Catholic Church or the pope can't talk about family policy without saying such dumb things."

Image: Francis
Pope Francis, right, gestures as he talks with journalists during his flight from Manila to Rome, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015.Alessandra Tarantino / AP