On Friday, Pope Francisco Bergoglio urged Vatican congregations to act “with determination” against sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic clergy, the Holy See said in a statement, the pope’s first public pronouncement on the topic. The Vatican said, referring to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles such cases, after the pope met with its director, “In particular, the Holy Father asked that the congregation … act with determination in cases of sexual abuse”.
The Catholic Archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Fox Napier, described paedophilia as a psychological “illness, not a criminal condition”. The South African cardinal told the BBC that people who were themselves abused as children, and, then, abused others, need to be examined by doctors. He was one of 115 cardinals who took part in the Vatican conclave that elected Pope Francisco.
Recently, clerical sexual abuse scandals have dogged the Catholic Church. In an interview with the Stephen Nolan programme on BBC Radio 5 Live, Cardinal Napier referred to paedophilia as “a psychological condition, a disorder. 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 said he knew at least two priests, who became paedophiles after themselves being abused as children, adding, “Now, don’t tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that. I don’t think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged”.
Cardinal Napier’s comments triggered immediate criticism. Barbara Dorries, who was abused by a priest when she was a child, works for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, based in Chicago IL. She told the BBC, “If it’s 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, and to keep the secrets within the church”.
Michael Walsh, who wrote a biography of late Pope John Paul II Wojtyła, said Cardinal Napier’s remarks were similar to the position once taken by the Catholic Church in the UK and the USA. Mr Walsh told the BBC, “At one time, they actually believed it was a condition that could be dealt with. Many bishops were simply moving priests and trying to disguise the fact that they’d been committing these crimes”. Marie Collins, who was a victim of abuse, told the BBC, “I think it’s appalling that we have a cardinal, a man at this level in the church, that can still hold these views. He’s totally ignoring the child”.
16 March/5 April 2013
Voice of Russia World Service