The church is failing on Aids, warns Ndungane

South Africa's top Anglican cleric on Tuesday accused religious leaders of failing to confront the global Aids crisis, saying "the church has never been good at dealing sensibly with sex".

Cape Town Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane said too many churches were contributing to the stigma surrounding the disease rather than fighting it.

"We must acknowledge that HIV/Aids has challenged the church on a number of levels," Ndungane said in remarks released ahead of a British conference on Aids and the church.

Ndungane, who succeeded Nobel Peace prize winner and anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu as Cape Town's Anglican archbishop, said the Aids epidemic highlighted the "shameful" role churches have played in perpetuating discrimination.

'I am ashamed the church has been part of it'

"We have privileged men over women and rich over poor. It is a disgrace - and I am ashamed the church has been part of it," Ndungane said.

"Then there is stigma. The church has never been good at dealing sensibly with sex, but we have too often condemned, as though sexual sin were the worst sin, and as though all those who are infected 'deserved it'."

Ndungane has been outspoken on the Aids crisis in South Africa, where activists accuse President Thabo Mbeki's government of doing too little to fight an epidemic that infects more than five million South Africans.

He also broke ranks with other African Anglican leaders last year in a dispute over the appointment of an openly gay bishop in the United States, accusing them of hypocrisy and intolerance.

Ndungane said too many churches continued to regard Aids as "God's retribution" rather than a human disease and were failing to provide the support that sick people need.

"Churches that teach otherwise will have some answering to do on Judgment Day," he said.