Following revelations that South Africa President Jacob Zuma fathered a child out of wedlock, the Catholic bishops of the country have expressed the “strongest concern” at scandalous behavior among national leaders. The bishops called on leaders to be role models and warned that their immorality has hindered the fight against HIV/AIDS.
In a Feb. 3 statement, President Zuma confirmed his relationship and his child by a woman who was not one of his wives. He said he had taken “personal responsibility” in the matter by acknowledging paternity. He also accused media coverage of profiteering and of violating laws that protect children from media exposure.
“The media is also in essence questioning the right of the child to exist and fundamentally, her right to life,” he charged, according to South Africa’s Times.
Zuma, a polygamist in marriages with several women, said it was “mischievous” to argue he has undermined government efforts against HIV and AIDS.
“I will not compromise on the campaign,” he stated.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, OFM, the Archbishop of Durban, issued a statement on behalf of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC). The Conference asked the country’s leaders whether their sexual morality made them a worthy role model for youth.
The statement, provided to CNA by a Conference spokesman, began by invoking commandments against adultery, murder, theft, and false witness. It also quoted Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: “whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
The SACBC expressed its “strongest concern” about the “scandalous behavior of leaders who shamelessly flout the norms of morality and decency, accepted and expected by the vast majority of people.”
The Conference particularly deplored attempts to excuse or defend such behavior by appealing to “culture.”
“We call on all leaders to recommit themselves to being worthy role models for the youth and children of the nation,” the bishops continued.
Noting that President Zuma had expressed regret for engaging in “unprotected sex,” the prelates said they were “appalled” that he has not shown remorse for his adultery “for the second time in as many years.”
The bishops charged that such immorality has done “irreparable damage” to national efforts to slow down or reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS. The SACBC recently took over a major HIV/AIDS treatment program in the country.
The bishops’ conference also cited two New Testament passages against sexual immorality and other evil acts, Mt 15:19-20 and 1Cor 6:13.
“We urge all followers of Christ, all men and women of goodwill, but especially our youth and young adults, to obey and live by the teaching of the Lord, which sets out the behavior that is necessary for a sound and healthy society,” the prelates concluded.