Comedian/actor Robin Williams refused to apologize Thursday for that he jokes about priests and pedophiles earlier this week on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" that has the Catholic Church "up in arms."

"They should have been up in arms basically after the Children's Crusade," Williams told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on the plaza outside the TODAY studios.


Williams appeared on the late-night show to promote his new movie, "License to Wed," in which he plays an Episcopal priest in Chicago who runs a unique marriage preparation course.

Williams pretended to be playing a shell game with a cup while Leno and the audience watched, and provided the running commentary: "Here we go. Find the priest, find the pedophile. Find the priest, find the pedophile. Here you go right now. Move 'em around, move 'em around. Oh, you found the pedophile."

Leading the backlash to Williams's remark was Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, who said, "Isaiah Washington lashes out at one gay person in private, and he is banished from 'Grey's Anatomy.' Robin Williams lashes out against all priests in public, and he suffers no consequence."

"Do you worry about offending people?" Vieira asked Williams.

"All the time," he replied. "But it's my job as a comic sometimes to keep going. If you read it, it's not like it didn't exist," he said of the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church.

For once, Robin Williams wanted to keep the genie in the bottle.

"We didn't want him to be Aladdin in a priest's outfit," says License to Wed director Ken Kwapis of the comic actor's turn as a minister who puts an engaged couple (John Krasinski and Mandy Moore) through a ludicrously intense marriage-prep course.

"The part really calls for a certain level of anarchy, someone ... to be a mischief-maker, but he's also a reverend, so all of that has to work within certain parameters. It was a great challenge working with Robin, who has this natural resource in his improvisational abilities."

For Williams, License to Wed, which opens in Canada on Friday, marks the actor's second broad, commercial comedy in as many years, after RV (and not including his supporting stint in Night at the Museum). These, in turn, follow such darker, introspective projects as The Night Listener, Insomnia and One Hour Photo.

"It's like Sophie's Choice -- pick a baby," Williams says of straddling the dramatic and comedic realms.


"I like the idea of doing this, a comedy with really fun people. I like doing stand-up -- with all the things going on (in the world), just to find some perspective and to find a way that addresses the craziness from both sides. The dramas, for me, allow me to explore more behavioural, deeper psychological kinds of things."

He continues, "For me, at the age of 55, I'm a character actor. The idea of an older furry love interest, unless you're doing Gorillas in the Mist: The Musical (isn't going to happen). I just want to keep working ...

"It's hard to find (a comedy) where I can go off as much as I do with stand-up."

Eventually the subject turns to religion and, specifically, why his License to Wed reverend has a young boy as his sidekick. Given current events, was that a wise choice?

"That's why he's a Protestant," Williams says. "If you had a Catholic priest with a small boy, already they're going, 'What's up?' It has been a difficult thing for the Catholic Church to deal with all these years, when they had the divine witness protection program ...

"It might be something to look at for the Catholic Church, losing the whole celibacy thing. First you have to give up sex, (but then they put) you in a small box and every week people are going to come and go, 'Bless me father for I have sinned.' 'What have you done my son?' 'Last night I was with twins in a slip and slide.' 'Oh, really? Keep going.' And then they're going to take you from that and put you next to pubescent children." (Williams was raised Protestant, or as he calls it "Catholic-lite. I grew in the Episcopal church, which is there is no purgatory, just spiritual escrow.")

Williams, who has been married 18 years to his second wife, is uncharacteristically at a loss when asked to espouse his own relationship advice.

"Really getting to know a woman is a lifelong task. I can't imagine polygamy -- to have two or three women pissed at me."