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Durban - The sexual abuse of children was a horrendous crime against children, families, the church and society and needed to be dealt with by the law, South Africa’s cardinal, Wilfrid Napier, 72, said on Sunday night.
In a statement on e.tv news the cardinal, who is the Archbishop of Durban, clarified remarks he made in a BBC Radio 5 Live interview at the weekend.
He had come in for a global hammering for saying paedophilia was a mental disorder and not a crime.
The cardinal said he “at least twice” told the interviewer Stephen Nolan that he was not qualified to explain paedophilia.
“I was afforded no time to explain that the priority of pastoral concern must always be for the victim,” he said on Sunday night.
He had complained
to the BBC show’s producers but felt he was given insufficient opportunity to set the record straight.
“While I issue this statement to give the background to the interview and also to what the church is actually doing about the sexual abuse of children, I apologise sincerely and unreservedly to all who were offended by the botched interview, and especially to those who have been abused and need every help and support the church can give,” he said.
On Sunday, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference posted a statement on its website from its head, Archbishop Stephen Brislin, stating that paedophilia was a crime that had to be punished and perpetrators had to take responsibility for what they did to children.
Brislin said there had been a veil of silence over child abuse for too long and it was only recently that there had been discussion on the issue.
“Unfortunately there have also been failures on the part of the church,” he said.
Brislin said abuse of children was so widespread that there was an urgent need for knowledge and understanding of what caused an abuser to harm children.
“Particularly when a perpetrator has himself been a victim of abuse”
After the BBC flighted its interview with Napier, the Rape Crisis Network in Ireland commented that it found the cardinal’s comments “unhelpful” and a strategy to avoid saying paedophilia was a crime.
Spokeswoman Cliona Saidlear said paedophilia was categorised in discussion to deflect conversation about responsibility.
Barbara Dorries, from the US-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.
“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.”
On Sunday, the Auxiliary Archbishop of Durban, Barry Wood, said the interview with Napier did not reflect the man he knew.
Argentinian-born Bishop Jose Ponce de Leon of Ingwavuma, in northern KwaZulu-Natal led the mass in Durban’s Emmanuel Cathedral to celebrate the election of Pope Francis.
He said Napier had been responsible for drawing up a written protocol on child abuse and sexual offences for the Southern African Bishops’ Conference which included South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland.
“Because of this document we now have a protocol committee that deals with cases,” said De Leon.
The document, posted on the conference’s website, was clear on the region’s stance on child abuse.
“When you talk about a priest who has abused someone, people say, he must be kicked out. But if you kick him out without protection, without pastoral care for the abuser and the abused child… who is keeping an eye on that priest to make sure he doesn’t do the same thing again?
“The huge challenge for us is following these cases and finding the source of the problem so we can put a stop to it.”