A South African cardinal has rejected accusations that he is homophobic, saying it is impossible because he knows no gay people.

The Catholic Archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Fox Napier, was among the 115 cardinals who elected Pope Francis as head of the Roman Catholic Church in March.

“I can’t be accused of homophobia,” Cardinal Napier told the South African Mail & Guardian newspaper on Friday, “because I don’t know any homosexuals”.

He also described the promotion of gay rights by the US as “a new kind of slavery”.

“With the same-sex marriages, we are carrying out someone else’s agenda, it’s a new kind of slavery, with America saying you won’t get aid unless you distribute condoms, legalise homosexuality,” the cardinal said.

South Africa is the only African nation to have legalised equal marriage.

Last month, Cardinal Napier was forced to apologise for describing paedophilia as a sickness and not a crime.

“Paedophilia is actually an illness – it is not a criminal condition,” he told the BBC’s Stephen Nolan .

The 72-year-old cardinal has since apologised to victims of child abuse, saying paedophilia was a medical condition and sexual abuse of children was a crime.