Is it possible? When a Priest is charged with being the father of his parish, of being the spiritual leader of the congregation, when the Priest has charge over our children, and then violates every tenant of his charge – that Priest must suffer some consequences. But does that mean eternal damnation? Does that mean that the Priest cannot be forgiven?
The infraction of the Priest is abhorrent. When exposed to Church leaders swift action must be taken. The past forty years have shown a merciful Roman Catholic Church. In many cases they acted on the best advice. Specifically – Priests were sent to therapy, to treatment centers, to psychiatrists. In some cases the Priests were returned with a clean bill of health, so to speak. Given the assurances of mental health professionals should the Priests have been returned to a Parish, again charged with spiritual leadership? Can the Priest be forgiven?
As a father and grandfather I would not want that Priest giving serving lessons to my children or grandchildren. Am I being cruel? Am I being unreasonable? I believe I could forgive the Priest – in the same manner that I have forgiven others. For instance, a driver is drunk, wrecks his car and kills an innocent boy in another car. What happens? Well, first of all, the drunk driver is not measured by the standards of his church – he is measured by the standards of the legal justice system. A DWI that causes the death of another will get an involuntary manslaughter conviction at least. That conviction will get the perpetrator some thing like three to ten years in prison. And the drunk driver will not be licensed to drive again for about a million years. I believe this is justice.
But justice is different than forgiveness. I am personally acquainted with men who have returned from prison after serving ten and fifteen years for involuntary manslaughter. These men were given extensive inpatient treatment for their addiction while in prison. I like these men. They do not drink. In fact, these men attend those meetings in church basements where they work with others who have problems with alcohol or drugs. They work to prevent the next accident that will take another life. They are noble men. Honorable men. But they ride their bicycle to the church. And that is how it should be.
Again, justice is not the same as forgiveness. The Priests might well be forgiven by their maker. And I have no problem with that idea. But the story of the Drunk Driver is not the same as the story of many of the Catholic Priests who have sexually abused children. The story is different because their Church gave them proper therapy and forgave them – but there was no justice.
I think that is where most of us, people who try to be honorable and forgiving, find difficulty with the ongoing sex scandal in the Catholic Church. Most of us do not mind, and even encourage, forgiveness. But all of us want justice. In most cases of the Catholic Priest the crimes were not reported to secular authorities who manage our legal system. Instead the crimes were covered up and dealt with administratively by the Church. Certainly we understand that the Church was attempting to avoid the potential embarrassment of an exposed scandal. But in hindsight that seems to make the deplorable behavior even worse.
We mentioned earlier that the Church acted on the best therapeutic advice – but we have to qualify that they acted only on behalf of the accused Priest. What about the victims of the pedophile Priest? Where was the therapy for these children? To offer therapy for the children would be to admit the crime of the Priest. Again, in a desperate attempt to save the image of the Church – the children were further abused by neglect.
I think I can forgive individual Priests – but they would never drive the spiritual wagon of the Church again. Our legal justice system has rules for sex offenders which would appropriately be applied to the Priests.
The Catholic Church established clear priorities – the image of the Church was more important that the welfare of the abused children. Is there forgiveness for the Church?