- (Photo: Reuters)
Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, the Archbishop of Durban, South Africa, has apologized after recent comments in which he said that priests who engage in pedophilia are not criminals but in need of mental help.
"I apologize 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 that the Church can give," Napier said in a statement.
"Child sexual abuse is a heinous crime among other things because of the damage it does to the child. In that concern I include the abused who has become an abuser," he added.
The Roman Catholic Church cardinal made headline news on Saturday when he did an interview with BBC Radio 5 and described pedophilia as a "disorder" that needs to be treated by doctors, rather than being a criminal offense.
"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," Napier said.
The Durban Archbishop's remarks were immediately spread all over the internet, with several reports criticizing the comments as suggesting that pedophiles should not face criminal prosecution.
The comments were particularly damaging as the Catholic Church itself has been dealing with numerous controversies over its handling of clergy who commit sexual abuse crimes, with many accusers claiming that leadership has shielded and hiden abusive priests, while not providing adequate support for victims.
In his statement, Cardinal Napier explained that he was not given sufficient opportunity on the BBC Radio 5 show to fully explain his comments, and said that what came out was a "botched interview."
"At least twice I stated that I was not qualified to say what pedophilia is. I was afforded no time to explain that the priority of pastoral concern must always be for the victim. But that has been overlooked in the heat of the argument," the Archbishop explained.
BBC News shared that Napier was one of the 115 cardinals who voted for a new pope last week at the Vatican, a conclave which elected Argentine Pope Francis as the first non-European pope in modern Catholic Church history.
SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has said that it remains cautiously optimistic that the new pope will work towards tackling the scandal that has rocked the RCC in recent decades.
As for whether pedophilia is more of a mental illness than a crime, Barbara Dorries of SNAP told BBC that a disease does not mean people who commit such acts should not be held responsible for their actions.
"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," Dorries commented.
"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."