Q & A: Desmond Tutu

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Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu may be retired, but he isn't retiring. Wise and witty as ever, the Nobel Prize-winning South African Archbishop remains an outspoken and compelling figure 12 years after his nonviolent activism helped abolish apartheid. Earlier this month, he marked his 75th birthday with the release of his authorized biography, Rabble-Rouser for Peace. Tutu talked with TIME's Sonja Steptoe about aging, the divisions in the Anglican Church and Nelson Mandela's questionable sense of style.

TIME: What's the best thing about life at 75?
Tutu: Looking back and now saying, "Hey, we are free!" And realizing it is possible for good to overcome evil and to know that we can do it together.

TIME: You learned you had prostate cancer in 1997. Are you now cancer free?
Tutu: It was in remission for a bit, and it has come back. But so far, it's not aggressive. As a baby I nearly died. And when I was about 15, I had tuberculosis and the doctors told my family I was going to die. So all these years that I've enjoyed have been bonuses.

TIME: Your biography is titled Rabble-Rouser for Peace, which sounds like a contradictory concept.
Tutu: I heard someone say you must wear your dirtiest pants if you want to be involved in working for peace. When you care about any injustice and fight for it, it's rough in the arena.

TIME: Twenty years ago, you became the first black to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa. What positive changes have you seen in the church since?
Tutu: In our own church we ordained women to the priesthood, which is a fantastic thing. When the church in the U.S. elected its first woman presiding bishop [Katherine Jefferts Schori], I said, "Yippee!"

TIME: In 1998, you told the Archbishop of Canterbury that you were ashamed to be Anglican when the church failed to liberalize its attitudes toward gay clergy. Do you still feel that way?
Tutu: Yes. For me, there doesn't seem to be a difference at all with how I felt when people were being clobbered for something about which they could do nothing — their race. I can't believe that the Jesus Christ I worship would be on the side of those who persecute an already persecuted minority. That we should be tearing ourselves apart on this issue of human sexuality when the world faces such devastating problems as poverty, AIDS and conflict seems as if we are fiddling whilst our Rome is burning.

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