SA calmed over comments on paedophilia

2013-03-17 10:00

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The country’s Catholic bishops have rushed to calm South Africans in the wake of comments by Cardinal Wilfred Napier, who told BBC Radio that paedophilia is a “mental illness, not a criminal condition”.

His Grace, the Most Reverend Stephen Brislin, Archbishop of Cape Town and president of the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, issued a statement late yesterday after an international furore had erupted around Napier’s comments.

The country’s most senior Catholic leader made the comments in a BBC Radio 5 live interview in Rome on Friday, saying that child abusers who were themselves victims of abuse should be examined by doctors.

Napier, a Durban-based cardinal, said paedophilia was “a psychological condition, a disorder”.

He further said: “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.”

The Durban cleric said he knew at least two priests who became paedophiles after themselves being abused as children.

“Now don’t tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that,” said the cardinal.

“I don’t think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged.”

Brislin said in his statement that the Bishops’ Conference had “regretfully” not listened to the

interview nor read the transcript.

“We have not been able to contact the cardinal. It is therefore not possible to react to that ­interview,” Brislin said.

“However, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference is well aware of the devastation caused by sexual and other abuse of minors, both for the victims and their families, and condemns all abuse unreservedly.

“For centuries, there has been a veil of silence in the world surrounding child abuse and it is only in recent years that the ­matter is receiving the attention it deserves.

“Unfortunately, there have also been failures on the part of the church.”

According to Brislin, paedophilia was “de facto a criminal offence”.

He said: “We will comply with the legal requirements when such cases come to our attention.

“Perpetrators must take responsibility for their actions.”

Child rights activists have laid into Napier over his comments, which?come against the backdrop of a Catholic church under pressure internationally over its perceived reluctance to deal with ­paedophiles within its ranks.

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