London -

A cardinal tipped to become the first black pope in modern history faced fierce criticism on Tuesday night after blaming homosexual priests for the abuse crises facing the Catholic church.

Peter Turkson, from Ghana, said such scandals would not occur in Africa because homosexuality was not condoned.

“African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency,” he said.

“Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa, homosexuality, or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind, are not countenanced in our society.

“So that cultural taboo, that tradition has been there. It has served to keep it out,” the 64-year-old told Christiane Amanpour in an interview on CNN.

Cardinal Turkson, who is head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is 5/2 second favourite to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, who announced his abdication last week. Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, is the 9/4 favourite with bookmaker Paddy Power.

Ruth Hunt, director of public affairs at campaign group Stonewall, said: “Cardinal Turkson’s comments show a surprisingly callous disregard for the human rights of millions of people worldwide.”

A spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests support group accused Cardinal Turkson of hiding behind a “weak shield”.

He said: “We hear less about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups in Africa for the same reasons we do throughout the developing world - there tends to be lesser funding for law enforcement, less vigorous civil justice systems, less independent journalism, and an even greater power and wealth difference between church officials and their congregants.”

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued a statement contradicting the cardinal’s views, saying that “there is no empirical data which concludes that sexual orientation is connected to child sexual abuse”. - Daily Mail