Wilfrid Napier

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His Eminence
Wilfrid Napier
Cardinal, Archbishop of Durban
Church Emmanuel Cathedral
Archdiocese Durban
Metropolis Durban
Appointed 29 March 1992
Predecessor Denis Hurley
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of S. Francesco d’Assisi ad Acilia
Member of Council for the Economy
Ordination 25 July 1970
by John Evangelist McBride
Consecration 28 February 1981
by Denis Hurley
Created cardinal 21 February 2001
by Pope John Paul II
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Birth name Wilfrid Fox Napier
Born (1941-03-08) 8 March 1941 (age 77)
Swartberg, Cape Union of South Africa (present day Republic of South Africa)
Nationality South African
Denomination Roman Catholic
Previous post Roman Catholic Bishop of Kokstad (1980–1992)
Coat of arms Wilfrid Napier's coat of arms

Wilfrid Fox Napier OFM (born 8 March 1941) is a South African cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and Archbishop of Durban, South Africa.

Styles of
Wilfrid Fox Napier
Coat of arms of Wilfrid Fox Napier.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Durban


Napier, a native South African, was born on 8 March 1941 in Swartberg, South Africa, and ordained a priest in 1970. In 1978 he was appointed as an apostolic administrator of Kokstad and in 1980 he was appointed bishop of Kokstad.[1]:98 In 1992, he succeeded Denis Hurley as archbishop of Durban, a position he still holds. He chose as his episcopal motto the franciscan phrase pax et bonum which translated means "Peace and goodwill".

Cardinal Napier graduated from University College Galway in 1964 with a degree in Latin and English.[1]:98 He then obtained an MA in philosophy and theology from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.[1]:98 31 years later, in 1995, the University bestowed the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws on him.[2][3]

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]:98 He was president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference in 1987-94 and 1999.[1]:98

Napier is a Member of the Episcopal Board of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). Napier was proclaimed a Cardinal-Priest of the Church in 2001, given the titular church of San Francesco d'Assisi ad Acilia;[4] and was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. On 21 March 2012, Cardinal Napier was appointed a Member of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers by Pope Benedict XVI.[5]

He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2013 papal conclave that selected Pope Francis. On 8 March 2014, Pope Francis appointed him to serve as a Cardinal Member of the newly established Council for Economic Affairs, which will oversee the work of the new Secretariat for the Economy, the financial regulatory agency for the departments of the Roman Curia.[6]

He is an occasional contributor to the South African national Catholic weekly "The Southern Cross".[7]



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.[8][9]

Vatican's views on Africa[edit]

Cardinal Napier stated that, to some extent, the Vatican lacks a "sufficient sensitivity to African churches." He said the pope's trips to Africa have helped in that regard, since every time he comes, Vatican officials are forced to learn something about Africa.[10]

Paedophilia Comments Controversy[edit]

On St Patrick's Day 2013, in a BBC interview[11][12] on the Stephan Nolan programme, BBC 5 live, Napier made the controversial statement that "From my experience paedophilia is actually an illness, it is not a criminal condition, it is an illness." Napier clarified in the closing minutes of the Nolan interview that he was very specifically not saying that someone "who has committed an offence against a child is not criminally liable." The cardinal mentioned two priests he knew who were abused as children and went on to become paedophiles. Cardinal Napier went on to say "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."[11][12]

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.[11] 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:

Napier attacked the BBC after the broadcast for being 'sensationalist' and 'putting words into my mouth'. He also 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.'[13]

Napier apologised via Twitter for his comments to Stephen Nolan on Radio 5 Live, "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."[14][15]

Climate change[edit]

In December 2011 Napier criticised world leaders on their failure to keep climate change commitments when 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.'[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Stober, Paul; Ludman, Barbara (2004). The Mail & Guardian. A - Z of South African Politics. South Africa: Jacana Media. 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. ^ Cardinal Title S. Francesco d’Assisi ad Acilia GCatholic.org
  5. ^ Cardinal Napier appointed a Member of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers
  6. ^ http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/03/08/0171/00360.html
  7. ^ Cardinal Napier in The Southern Cross
  8. ^ S. Africa Health Minister To Discuss AIDS Programs With Religious Leaders, Including Bishops Opposed to Condom Use:Health and Medicine News, Medilinks Africa website
  9. ^ "UK and SA Governments Suffer Cardinal's Ire". What the cardinals believe. cardinalrating.com. 5 October 2006. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  10. ^ The Vatican lacks a "sufficient sensitivity to African Churches”
  11. ^ a b c d "'Paedophilia not criminal condition' says Durban cardinal". BBC. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  12. ^ a b "Transcript: 'Controversial' Cardinal Napier Interview". Mark Cogitates. 17 March 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  13. ^ "Anger over Cardinal's gaffe". iol News. Independent Newspapers (Pty) Limited. 17 March 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  14. ^ "S.Africa cardinal apologises for paedophilia remark". Google News. AFP. 18 March 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2013. 
  15. ^ "Cardinal apologises for remarks on paedophilia". The Statesman. The Statesman Limited. 18 March 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2013. 
  16. ^ "Catholics march in London against climate change apathy". The Universe. 10 December 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 

External links[edit]