A Catholic cardinal who was part of the conclave that elected Pope Francis has described pedophilia as a psychological illness and not a "criminal condition."
According to the BBC, the Catholic Archbishop of Durban, Wilfried Fox Napier, told BBC Radio 5 live that people who suffered abuse as children and later became pedophiles were not criminally responsible for their actions as people who simply choose "to do something like that."
Cardinal Napier's comment comes as the newly elected Pope Francis is being urged to take action against priests involved in the child abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church. Pope Francis' predecessor Pope Benedict XVI offered an apology in 2010 for the scandals.
According to the Daily Mail, Cardinal Napier was among the 115 cardinals in the Vatican conclave that elected Pope Francis. He was also one of the cardinals who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
The BBC reports that the 72-year-old cardinal, said: "What do you do with disorders? You have got to try and put them right. If I as a normal being choose to break the law knowing that I am breaking the law, then I think I need to be punished... From my experience pedophilia is actually an illness, it is not a criminal condition, it is an illness."
Cardinal Napier illustrated his point with reference to two priests he knew whom he said were abused as children and later became pedophiles.
He told the BBC: "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 when he was himself damaged."
Napier's statement is consistent with his record. In 2002, he stirred a controversy when he resisted pressures to expel South African priests accused of child molestation.
Observers note that his position to similar to the official position the Catholic Church in the US and UK have taken in the past and may even reflect attitudes persisting in the church hierarchy which explain why the church, according to critics, continues to cover up priests accused of child sex abuse.
According to the BBC, Michael Walsh, a Pope John Paul II biographer, said: "They [the church] did actually at one time believe 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."
The BBC reports that Barbara Dorries of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who was abused as a child, said: "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. 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."
Marie Collins, a victim, said: "I think it is appalling that we have a cardinal, a man at this level in the church that can still hold these views. He is totally ignoring the child."
The Daily Mail notes this is not the first time that Cardinal Napier has made controversial statements. He has argued that people should abstain from sex rather than use contraceptives to stop the spread of HIV. He said that programs to stop the spread of HIV by distributing condoms have not been effective. However, his views on the subject only reflect the official Catholic Church position which promotes abstinence.
Cardinal Napier is a prolific Twitter user who keeps his followers posted on official church events.
According to the Daily Mail, he tweeted after the election of Pope Francis: "Last 2 days quite unreal. Mass with Pope Francis in Santa Martha Chapel, Breakfast, Lunch & Supper with him sitting at a different table!... What's it like in Conclave? Apart from NO radio or TV, NO newspapers or phone calls, Emails or SMS's, NO Twitter or Facebook, all is normal. We chat, discuss, get to know each other. Meals are special times. We relax, share stories about our home Churches, dream about the future!"