“Careerism is a leprosy”: Pope’s comment dismays WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa

WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa has written to Pope Francis over the Pope’s comment in a speech at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy on June 6 that “Careerism is a leprosy, a leprosy.”

The academy trains future Vatican diplomats and the Pope was urging his audience not to put ambition above service to the Church.

In his letter dated June 13, Sasakawa, who is the Nippon Foundation chairman, expressed concern that the remark draws on deeply ingrained negative stereotypes of leprosy and will reinforce discrimination against people affected by the disease and their families. A copy of the letter has been delivered to the Vatican Embassy in Tokyo.

“In South America in particular, where there are many Catholics and still quite a few people affected by leprosy, I believe what you said will have had a big impact,” Sasakawa wrote. He also requested an audience with the Pope and the chance to apprise him of the work being done to restore the dignity and human rights of people affected by leprosy.  

The full text of the Pope’s June 6 speech can be found on the official Vatican website.


In January 2012, Sasakawa wrote to the producers and distributor of an animated feature, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, protesting over a trailer for the film in which leprosy was portrayed in a discriminatory light. The scene was subsequently modified. 

News reports of the Pope’s speech can also be found at these links:


Natsuko Tominaga
Public Relations Department
The Nippon Foundation

The Nippon Foundation

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