South Africa’s most senior Catholic and Archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Fox Napier, has triggered a storm of fury after describing pedophilia as an “illness, not a criminal condition.”
In a recent interview with BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Stephen Nolan, the Cardinal said pedophilia was “a psychological condition, a disorder” and that those who suffered from it needed to be examined by a doctor.
Cardinal Napier was among the 115 cardinals in the Vatican conclave that elected Pope Francis earlier this week.
“What do you do with disorders? You’ve got to try and put them right. If I – as a normal being – choose to break the law, knowing that I’m breaking the law, then I think I need to be punished.”
He revealed that he knew of at least two priests who were abused as children and then abused others.
“Now don’t tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that,” Napier continued. ” I don’t think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged.”
Inevitably, the Cardinal’s comments have triggered fury from former victims and abuse advocates.
Barbara Dorries, who as a child was abused by a priest and now works for the Chicago based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the BBC:
“If it is a disease that’s fine, but it’s also a crime and crimes are punished, criminals are held accountable for what they did and what they do.The bishops and the cardinals have gone to great lengths to cover these crimes to enable the predators to move on, to not be arrested, to keep the secrets within the church.”
Likewise, Michael Walsh, who has written a biography of late Pope John Paul II, said Cardinal Napier’s remarks were similar to views held within the Catholic Church in the UK and the US in previous years, and that priests considered to have the “condition” were moved around the church to disguise the fact that they’d been committing these crimes.
Marie Collins, another victim of abuse, added: “I think it is appalling that we have a cardinal, a man at this level in the church that can still hold these views. He is totally ignoring the child.”
The Catholic Church has recently been dogged by a number of scandals over clerical sex abuse for decades around the world. Presently, there are calls on the new Pope Francis to address past abuses and set a definitive tone on the Church’s position on sex abuse within its ranks.