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Wilfrid Napier

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Wilfrid Napier

Archbishop Emeritus of Durban
Napier on 17 October 2018 in Rome.
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
Appointed29 May 1992
Term ended9 June 2021
PredecessorDenis Eugene Hurley
SuccessorSiegfried Jwara
Other post(s)Cardinal-Priest of San Francesco d’Assisi ad Acilia (2001-)
Ordination25 July 1970
by John Evangelist McBride
Consecration28 February 1981
by Denis Hurley
Created cardinal21 February 2001
by Pope John Paul II
RankCardinal Priest
Personal details
Wilfrid Fox Napier

(1941-03-08) 8 March 1941 (age 83)
NationalitySouth African
DenominationCatholic (Roman Rite)
Previous post(s)Apostolic Administrator of Kokstad (1978-80)
Bishop of Kokstad (1980–92)
President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (1987-93; 2000-08)
President of Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (1988-94; 2003-06)
Archbishop of Durban (1992–2021)
Apostolic Administrator of Umzimkulu (1994–2008)
MottoPax et Bonum
("Peace and all good")
Coat of armsWilfrid Napier's coat of arms

Wilfrid Fox Napier OFM (born 8 March 1941) is a South African prelate of the Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Durban from 1992 to 2021 and has been a cardinal since 2001. He served as Bishop of Kokstad from 1981 to 1992.

Styles of
Wilfrid Fox Napier
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal


Napier was born on 8 March 1941 in Matatiele, South Africa. He joined the Franciscan Novitiate in Killarney before moving to St Anthony s College, Galway, to study at UCG. He graduated from University College Galway in 1964 with a degree in Latin and English.[1] Studying at the Irish Franciscans St Anthony's College, Leuven, he obtained an MA in philosophy and theology from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.[1]

He was ordained a priest of the Order of Friars Minor on 25 July 1970. On 15 May 1978 he was appointed apostolic administrator of Kokstad and on 29 November 1980 he was appointed bishop there.[1] He chose as his episcopal motto the phrase pax et bonum which means "peace and goodwill".

On 29 March 1992, he was named to succeed Denis Hurley as Archbishop of Durban.

During the early nineties, he and other church leaders were involved in mediation and negotiation during the unrest leading up to the 1994 election and was present in September 1991 when the Peace Accord was signed.[1] He was president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference in 1987-94 and 1999.[1] He was also apostolic administrator of Umzimkulu from 1 August 1994 to 14 March 2009.

In 1995, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from University College Galway, his alma mater.[2][3]

Napier is a member of the Episcopal Board of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

Pope John Paul II made Napier a Cardinal Priest on 21 February 2001 and assigned the titular church of San Francesco d'Assisi ad Acilia.[4] He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI. On 21 March 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named him a member of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers.[5]

He was a cardinal elector at the 2013 papal conclave that elected Pope Francis.[6] As the conclave neared he described himself as "very frightened"; he thought there was a "higher likelihood" the next pope would be non-European and said that "The centre of gravity of the church has also shifted from the north to the south."[7]

He has been an occasional contributor to the South African national Catholic weekly "The Southern Cross".[8]

Pope Francis accepted his resignation as archbishop of Durban on 9 June 2021.[9] Napier continues as apostolicae administrator of the archdiocese until his successor is installed.[10]



In January 2005, Napier stated, in comments similar to some made by Pope Benedict XVI, that government programmes to distribute condoms were ineffectual in stemming the spread of HIV. Instead, he proposed programmes based upon the principle of abstinence.[11][12]

Vatican's views on Africa[edit]

In October 2003, Cardinal Napier stated that, to some extent, the Vatican lacks a "sufficient sensitivity to African churches." He said the trips Pope John Paul II made to Africa have helped, since every time he comes, Vatican officials are forced to learn something about Africa.[13]

Paedophilia comments controversy[edit]

On 17 March 2013, in a BBC interview[14][15] Napier said that "From my experience paedophilia is actually an illness, it is not a criminal condition, it is an illness." He went on to explain that he did not mean that there was to be not criminal liability. He mentioned two priests he knew who were abused as children and went on to become paedophiles and said: "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."[14] Michael Walsh, a biographer of Pope John Paul II, stated that at one time this was the view of many Catholics in the US and UK.[14] Barbara Dorries from Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and, herself a victim of sex abuse from a priest when she was a child told the BBC:[14] "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."[14]

Napier attacked the BBC after the broadcast for being "sensationalist" and "putting words into my mouth". He added: "I made it quite clear that paedophilia is a crime, and that we as a church have got a whole process in place for dealing with it."[16]

Napier apologised via Twitter for his comments: "I apologise to victims of child abuse offended by my misstatement of what was and still is my concern about all abused, including abused abuser." He went on to say "It's the supreme irony. Because I raised the issue of the abused abuser, I stand accused of insensitivity to the sufferings of the abused."[17]

Climate change[edit]

In December 2011 Napier criticised world leaders on their failure to keep climate change commitments. He said "We express our displeasure with local and international political leadership which has failed to take decisive steps to make the changes required for the survival of humanity and life on earth. We as the religious community demand that our political leaders honour previous commitments and move towards ethically responsible positions and policies."[18]

Marriage and family[edit]

Cardinal Napier said in 2015 that the recent two Synod of Bishops dedicated to marriage and family life enabled for there to be "a strong focus on the problems and challenges facing the family", calling for the Church to accompany them through times of crisis. Napier further said that it was important to identify concretely what married couples needed to do in order to strengthen their marital bond which in turn would allow them to properly identify how to strengthen their family lives.[19]

Black Lives Matter[edit]

On 28 August 2020 Cardinal Napier voiced criticism of Black Lives Matter claiming it had been hijacked due to views the movement had expressed on the family and abortion, which the Cardinal believes undermines the cause of racial justice, tweeting "It’s time to state honestly what BLM really stands for – destroying the traditional Family AND what it actually does – destroying property including religious building and objects!" and "Another crucial test of the authenticity of the Black Lives Matter movement will be its stance vis a vis Planned Parenthood and the Abortion Industry!"[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e Stober, Paul; Ludman, Barbara (2004). The Mail & Guardian A – Z of South African Politics:The Essential Handbook. South Africa: Jacana Media. pp. 97–8. ISBN 9781770090231.
  2. ^ National University of Ireland, Galway profile of Wilfrid Cardinal Napier Archived 14 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ National University of Ireland, Galway report on Napier's elevation to the cardinalate
  4. ^ Pope John Paul II (21 February 2001). "Concistoro Ordinario Pubblico per la creazione dei nuovi Cardinali" [Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals] (Homily) (in Italian). Libreria Editrica Vaticana. Assegnazione dei Titoli o delle Diaconie ai nuovi Cardinali. Archived from the original on 8 January 2018. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  5. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine, 21.03.2012" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. 21 March 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  6. ^ "List of Cardinal Electors". Zenit. 12 March 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  7. ^ "SA cardinal awaiting funeral details". iAfrica. 4 April 2005. Archived from the original on 3 March 2006. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
  8. ^ "Cardinal Napier in The Southern Cross". The Southern Cross. 25 September 2017. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
  9. ^ "Rinunce e nomine, 09.06.2021" (Press release) (in Italian). Holy See Press Office. 9 June 2021. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
  10. ^ Singh, Karen (9 June 2021). "Bishop Siegfried Mandla Jwara appointed new Catholic archbishop of Durban". Independent Online (South Africa). Retrieved 10 June 2021.
  11. ^ S. Africa Health Minister To Discuss AIDS Programs With Religious Leaders, Including Bishops Opposed to Condom Use:Health and Medicine News Archived 25 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Medilinks Africa website
  12. ^ "UK and SA Governments Suffer Cardinal's Ire". What the cardinals believe. cardinalrating.com. 5 October 2006. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  13. ^ Allen Jr., John L. (24 October 2003). "The unofficial opening of the campaign season; What the church's decision-makers are thinking and feeling these days". National Catholic Reporter. Archived from the original on 10 June 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d e "'Paedophilia not criminal condition' says Durban cardinal". BBC. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  15. ^ "Transcript: 'Controversial' Cardinal Napier Interview". Mark Cogitates. 17 March 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  16. ^ "Anger over Cardinal's gaffe". iol News. Independent Newspapers (Pty) Limited. 17 March 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  17. ^ "Cardinal apologises for remarks on paedophilia". The Statesman. The Statesman Limited. 18 March 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  18. ^ "Catholics march in London against climate change apathy". The Universe. 10 December 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  19. ^ "Napier: 'Expect a strong reaffirmation of the Church's teaching'". Katholische Nachrichten. 19 November 2015. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  20. ^ "Black Catholic Leader says Black Lives Matter Organization 'Ill-Equipped to Lead'". 24 September 2020.

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by — TITULAR —
Bishop of Kokstad
29 November 1980 – 29 May 1992
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the Southern African Episcopal Conference
1987 – 1993
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Reginald Joseph Orsmond
President of the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa
1988 – 1994
Succeeded by
Preceded by Archbishop of Durban
29 May 1992 – 9 June 2021
Preceded by President of the Southern African Episcopal Conference
2000 – November 2008
Succeeded by
Buti Joseph Tlhagale
New title Cardinal Priest of San Francesco d'Assisi ad Acilia
21 February 2001 –
Preceded by President of the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa
2003 – 2006
Succeeded by
Buti Joseph Tlhagale