Vilification of Cardinal Wilfrid Napier and footballer Shane Duffy is over the top
We ought to be able to disagree without obliterating unacceptable opinions
South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier. There was a disproportionate response to his confused and ill-judged words on paedophilia. Photograph: Plinio Lepri/AP Photo
Two very different men, two very different mistakes. Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, the Catholic Archbishop of Durban, and one of 115 cardinals who took part in the conclave to elect Pope Francis last week, has been vilified for his claim that paedophilia is a psychological “illness, not a criminal condition”.
A few days later, Shane Duffy, the Everton and Republic of Ireland defender, was excoriated for a pro-IRA comment which appeared on his Twitter page. The 72-year-old South African and the 21-year-old Irishman have nothing in common – other than becoming the latest targets for our collective hatred and scorn.
Certainly, they screwed up: Napier’s words were confused and ill-judged, Duffy’s comment (which he denies posting, claiming his phone was interfered with) foolish and distasteful. But I feel sorry for both men. The outrage heaped upon them is out of all proportion to what they said or did. It says less about them and much more about the overpowering modern hunger for someone to blame; the desperate need for a tacitly agreed dumping ground, on which to offload fear and rage, so that we can all feel better about ourselves.
Of the two, Cardinal Napier’s remarks, made on a BBC radio programme, are the more troubling. Speaking of two priests who became paedophiles after themselves being abused as children, he said: “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.”
Causes of paedophilia
Later, the cardinal took to Twitter to pursue his point, asking: “Do the church and society not have to consider the damage he suffered when deciding what to do? Or does the abused abuser lose all his rights?”
Regardless of the causes of paedophilia – and there is still surprisingly little expert consensus on this, despite the public obsession with the issue – the criminal culpability of the abuser cannot be absolved by any abuse he suffered himself. Of course it cannot be a get-out-of-jail-free card. The harm done to the victim is just the same, whether or not the perpetrator is also a former victim, and Napier should know this.
Perhaps he should also have realised that in the “hang ’em, flog ’em” popular consciousness, where the child abuser is the personification of all evil, there is little or no distinction between paedophile priests and those who appear to be their apologists. Essentially, Napier made the mistake of trying to have a rather woolly academic argument in a lurid tabloid world. Fending off bitter retorts and calls for his resignation, he’s paying the price for that now.
Ignorant and crass
Shane Duffy’s intemperate message,“Up the Ra!”, which appeared on his Twitter feed during the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, was ignorant and crass, particularly in the context of the 20th anniversary of the IRA bombing of Warrington, in which two children died. But it signified little more than the inebriated burblings of a foolish youth, or one of his mates (who supposedly got hold of Duffy’s phone and caused the mischief, according to the official narrative). Nonetheless, it quickly earned young Duffy 40 shades of semi-literate abuse on social media.