Cardinal Napier and the criminality of sex abuse

An interview with BBC Radio Five Live by Cardinal Wilfred Napier of Durban, South Africa, has been widely interpreted as having implied that paedophilia is a sickness, rather than a crime. The original interview, with Stephen Nolan, last Friday night, is here. and the transcript here. He returned onto the programme on Saturday night to clarify his remarks; CV director Austen Ivereigh also called into the programme, from Rome. The second programme can be heard here.

The cardinal has since issued a statement, in which he makes clear what he was trying to express and making clear that sex abuse is a heinous crime in both canon and civil law. He also apologises “sincerely and unreservedly to all who were offended by the botched interview”.

The position of the Southern African Bishops’ Conference (SABC), whose safeguarding procedures can be downloaded here, is absolutely clear. The relevant sections read:

The sexual abuse of minors is a crime in both Canon and Civil Law. Catholics, including clergy and Religious, are subject to whatever civil laws are in force in regard to such abuse. Over and above those civil laws, the Church in Southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland) has its own disciplinary procedures for responding to allegations of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. This is called the ’Protocol for Church Personnel in Regard to the Sexual Abuse of Minors’.

and later:

The written policy of the Church is based on the conviction that each child should be nourished and affirmed as a gift from God with an inherent right to dignity of life and bodily integrity which must be respected, nurtured and protected by all. The policy communicates the commitment of the Church at all levels to keep children safe by creating a safe environment for children participating in Church-related activities. It aims to prevent abuse and to make sure that the Church personnel are aware of situations that reasonably lead to abuse. It takes into account the provisions of state law.
According to South African law:

  • Any person who has knowledge that a sexual offence has been committed against a child must report such knowledge to a police official or registered social worker.
  • Any person, who on reasonable grounds, suspects that a child has been physically abused or deliberately neglected must report that suspicion to the police or registered social worker who has had the appropriate training.Moreover, the SACBC Protocol stipulates that anybody who has information on the sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric passes that information to the Contact Person appointed by the relevant Church authority.

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