LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rick Pitino's personal failings should be forgiven and he should remain as head basketball coach at the University of Louisville, churchgoers in Kentucky said Sunday.
Some anti-abortion groups have called for the university to fire Pitino because a woman with whom he admitted having extramarital sex had an abortion soon after.
But Catholics attending Mass Sunday morning said the high-profile coach, a self-professed Roman Catholic, should be given another chance.
A member at a Louisville church Pitino has attended said Pitino's moral shortcomings are between the coach and God, despite the Catholic church's opposition to abortion.
"I still think he's a great man, he just put himself in a bad position and it's a terrible blemish on his character," said Arnold Brown, who attended an early mass Sunday at St. Frances of Rome.
Brown, 69, said he is a University of Kentucky fan but he "loves Rick Pitino," who coached in the 1990s at Kentucky, where he led the Wildcats to the national championship in 1996.
"I think he's led a good life and been very charitable and kind."
St. Frances pastor B.J. Breen said Pitino "drops in" from time to time.
Pitino has admitted to police that he had sex in 2003 with Karen Cunagin Sypher, who was indicted in May on charges of lying to the FBI and attempting to extort up to $10 million from Pitino. She has pleaded not guilty in that federal case.
In police documents which became public last week, Pitino acknowledged giving Sypher $3,000 after she said she was pregnant and was getting an abortion, but didn't have health insurance. Pitino's lawyer, Steve Pence, has insisted the money was for insurance and Pitino never paid for an abortion.
Pence has called Sypher's decision "solely hers," while she has claimed that it was not.
Pitino apologized publicly last week for the "indiscretion six years ago."
Meanwhile a student group at the University of Louisville called for the school to fire Pitino due to a morality clause in his contract that states the coach can be terminated for "acts of moral depravity."
Abortion should count as a morally depraved act, said Matt Foushee, who founded the group Louisville Cardinals for Life.
"The real root of this issue is that we have someone who would've been a six-year-old boy or girl right now, who is dead," Foushee said. "And the tragedy is that it is not being seen as a problem. (Pitino is) being seen as the victim."
Martin Cothran, who works for the Family Foundation of Kentucky, an anti-abortion lobbying group, also called for Pitino's firing in his personal online blog last week.
But Catholics attending church Sunday morning were more forgiving.
"Everyone has problems in their life," said Brian Esser, a 24-year-old law student at the University of Louisville who attended the Cathedral of the Assumption on Sunday. "I can't judge him."
Cecilia H. Price, a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, said in a statement Sunday that the "church's teaching and pastoral outreach are clear, but we do not think it is appropriate to comment on individuals or individual circumstances."
Despite that, Pitino should "absolutely" keep his job, said Steve Sims, a salesman from Owensboro who was visiting the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, a church Pitino once attended when he coached at Kentucky.
"It is disappointing from a personal level, but at the same time that would be between him and God," Sims said. "And as human beings, we all from time to time disappoint one another."
But Linda Harvey, who said she once saw Pitino at a mass at Christ the King, said she hasn't made up her mind whether Pitino should be let go.
"I just don't think he gives very good witness to the Catholic faith with the abortion issue," said Harvey, a social worker who said she was offended when she heard about the abortion by the woman who had sex with Pitino. "It's a serious issue."
Associated Press writer Joe Biesk in Lexington contributed to this report.