/ 20 November 2007

The Kleenex option a cardinal rule, Wilf

His Eminence Cardinal Wilfred Napier OMI

Head of the Roman Catholic Church

C/O Cover-up Cottage

Silence Street

Diocese of Denial

South Africa

Dear Brotha’ Wilf

Hoping you’ll pardon the familiarity, taking liberties with your first name and all. But in my business, as you know, everyone is on a first name basis. You know, “Leonardo”, “Angelina”, “Paris”.

Though I haven’t yet been graced with the pleasure of having you on my couch, I feel like we really know each other. For one, we have more in common than you’d believe …

I’m not Catholic myself, but well-versed in some familiar themes of yours. You know, forgiveness, absolution, rebirth — that kind of thing. The Good Book isn’t on my Book Club’s Top Ten, but those words come up a lot in my other reading. Have you read any Iyanla Vazant?

Then, of course, there’s the deeper spiritual ties I just know we share. For one, I see angels and stuff. Why, just two years back I beheld one such holy apparition walking the streets of Soweto, that place I call my spiritual home.

A right real “living angel on earth”. That’s how I put it. They call her Mama Jackie Maarohanye. She made quite an impression. An instant one, actually. I was so impressed with her efforts to give solace and education to a troop of raggedy orphans that I gave her a million bucks. I hear there’s been some trouble about her, but who would dare accuse me of naiveté? Who isn’t a sucker for a good sob story from Ah-Free-Kah?

But enough of that, I’m writing you about a somewhat more pressing earthly matter. That bit of background to illustrate my commitment to our native soil will, I fervently hope (and pray), make you see there’s more to me than the razzle-dazzle. And that my well-meaning words of counsel are taken in the spirit they’re intended — from one Savior of the Human Soul, to another, so to speak.

I’m sure you will by now have heard about the nasty business with the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

It’s a great pity, isn’t it, when one’s good intentions go awry. When, as the saying goes, things lead to bloody hell (don’t you just hate that word!). There I was, full of dreams to “give back” — now things lay in tatters all because of some person in a position of authority used it to fiddle with the innocents.

Which brings me to my purpose. If you’ll again forgive me the liberties I am taking, but I cannot but notice, Wilf, just how different you and I are.

Sure, there’s the obvious stuff, what with you and your staff and mitre, and me and my remote control. But it’s more than that; something deeper.

Forgive me (I seem to be saying that a lot) if I am mistaken, but you seem to have a radically different approach when it comes to managing scandal in your establishment.

Though I’m not around much — except maybe by teleconference — I’ve been reading about yet another sex scandal to rock the Church in South Africa. Involving one Bishop Reginald Orsmond.

He, like me, was in charge of a haven of shelter for vulnerable underlings at Boys Town. Now some former pupils are coming forward saying he abused them. Just like that dreadful so-called matron at my academy.

Unfortunately, Wilf, it seems that’s where the similarities end. I’m talking, Wilf, about the shockingly stony-faced approach to matters. Matters which, if what I read is to be believed, are shockingly common in your neck of the woods.

I’m not here to judge — after all, the Bible does remind us: “Lest ye also be judged …” I’m just here to offer you a few tips on the finer arts of remorse, and winning over the public.

Rule One: Bring on the tears. Preferably lots of them. That way you’ll be described in publications like the Afrikaans newspaper Beeld as being things like tot in my diepste wese geskok. Believe me, it helps. And I would know — Kleenex is big on my show.

Rule Two: Apologise, like I have done to everyone, even Tata Mandela. Little words mean a lot, especially from Cardinals. And do it immediately you find out. Don’t keep victims waiting, like one of Bishop Orsmond’s, who has been waiting since 1962.

Not to mention a case reported in this very newspaper last year about a series of scandals involving the Church and sex abuse. They say you offered to pay for a victim’s psychological therapy, but all she says she wanted was an apology.

They also say you wrote her a letter ending with, and I quote: “Your signed, written acceptance of these conditions, unconditionally, must be received by this office.”


Rule Three: Fire anyone and everyone involved — like I did when I cleaned out the house at the Academy. No “rehabilitation courses” to the UK. You’ve been quoted saying: “We don’t defrock priests because that’s not how things are done.”

Sexual abuse may be what you have been quoted as saying, Wilf, “an illness requiring help”, but it’s also a CRIME.

In conclusion, again I hope you’ll forgive my seemingly preachy tone. But it is, as I said, with the best intentions. So take a leaf out of the old Queen of Daytime’s book: just say you’re sorry. And bring out them tears, even if they’re crocodile-ish.

And look sorry — not as grim and unmoved as a statue in the grand basilicas of Rome.

It’s not like it’s the first time the Church will be doing it anyway — they said sorry for the Holocaust, didn’t they?

Your loving sister,