Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier Suggests Pedophilia Not A Crime, But An Illness

03/18/2013 01:07 pm ET | Updated Mar 18, 2013

A South African cardinal who last week participated in the conclave to elect Pope Francis suggested in a recent interview with the BBC that pedophilia is an illness and not a crime.

Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, the Archbishop of Durban, spoke with Stephen Nolan for BBC Radio 5 about the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal. Commenting on the Church's "mishandling" of pedophile priests, Napier said the Church took the proper actions when handling the accused by giving them therapy. He also called pedophilia "a psychological condition, a disorder," according to the BBC.

Napier went on to describe two pedophile priests who were abused as children. "Now don't tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that," he said. "I don't think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged."

At least one other religious official disagreed with Napier's stance on the matter.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said that pedophilia is "very clearly a crime." Speaking with the Irish Independent, Martin said, "No one has the right to harm a child. And no one can excuse themselves from that."

After facing criticism, Napier took to Twitter to deliver a verbose defense. First, he accused Nolan of having another "agenda." He then said that medical experts are the only ones who can pass proper judgment.

Napier also released a statement to the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference clarifying his position and maintaining pedophilia is not permissible.

The point was and still is: 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. Whether he needs medical help as much as, if not more than punishment, is a question that is still to be answered by medical experts? Does the damage suffered by the abused in any way affect his culpability before a court of law? Again only the experts can give us the answer. I am not qualified, but don’t I have the duty to ask on behalf of the abused abuser that he be given treatment even while inprison?

Napier was one of the 115 cardinals who selected Pope Francis on March 13. Sex abuse victims and others affected by the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal are looking to the new pope for hope.

"In an ideal world, it would be an open and honest look at the structures that continue to perpetuate sexual abuse in the [C]hurch," Nicole Sotelo, a spokesman for the Catholic reform group Call to Action, told ABC News.

"He has chosen a name that has not been used by any pope before in history," she added. "Let's hope he is sending a symbol that he is willing to break with tradition and do something new. ... and be the pope who listens to the concerns of Catholics around the globe and lives out the heart of the gospel message, which is justice."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's title. A change has been made.

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