I used to think that, when it came to clergy abuse, the Catholic church was stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, abuse of any kind (especially the worst kind) is expressly forbidden in all Church laws, doctrines, and teachings. To say it differently, in no way is this tolerated in the “official rules” of the Catholic church.
On the other hand, in very Christ-like fashion, the Church will “forgive” any sin committed by anyone. Any sin. By anyone. (I put “forgive” in quotations because even the Church will tell you that it’s God who does the actual forgiving. The Church just hears the confession and helps bring home the forgiveness. Sure, there are some sins that can only be “forgiven” by the Pope, but he’s part of the Church, too.)
To truly forgive means to wipe the slate clean and leave no residue – as though it never happened. And in this case, forgiving someone for hurting a child means to move on as though it never happened… I imagine this is somewhat difficult for the confessor, sometimes a little harder for the person confessing, and just about impossible for the victim. With these types of injuries, no one in this lifetime can simply “replace” what was stolen – the wound is almost always permanent. The scars definitely are.
So therein lies what I thought was the problem: how does the Church reconcile these terrible acts by PTSO’s (Priests-Turned-Sex-Offenders. I can’t bring myself to call them “priests” anymore) with boundless forgiveness?
Adultery, lying, theft, even murder can be explained, understood, and maybe even sympathized with in the proper context. And the people doing those things can do them once, hate themselves for it, and never do it again. Under the “right” circumstances, we’ve all done things we swore we’d never do, and at times, we’ve all fallen well-short of our ideal self. The distinction is in a “one-off mistake” versus “who we are”.
The abuses of the PTSO’s aren’t one-off mistakes. Forcing some type of sex on a child isn’t an occasional crime, committed in the moment. It’s a blood-red flag of who that person is, and it shows the Grand Canyonic faults in their humanity and moral conscience.
As though He knew this day would come, the Good Lord prepared us for just such an occasion, and a deacon’s recent homily assuaged my struggle and brought to relevance the 2,000-year-old lesson: The Purification of the Temple (John 2: 13-17).
Summarizing the passage and deacon’s message:
Upon entering the temple, Jesus found more of a state fair than a worship service. People were buying and selling livestock, money changers were working, and I imaging a whole host of marketplace-type activities were happening in the background. Jesus grabbed a few cords, made a whip, and violently drove out everyone who was partaking in the “fair”. He scattered the money and threw over the tables of the money changers.
It’s the only time in the Bible that Jesus is seen acting so…zealous. Maybe, “enraged”?
Jesus, who was more charismatic and persuasive than any human to ever live, could have handled it differently. He could have gone around to each of them and said, “you know this is a place of worship. Please collect your things and go,” and the people would have listened. They would have quietly left with their belongs and their reputations intact. And in the end, the temple would have been cleared. But Jesus didn’t respond that way. Instead, he made a very loud and very public statement that this behavior would not and should not be tolerated in God’s house.
The deacon said that the Church should do the same.
The Pope seems to be heading in that direction, too.
In a recent homily, our pastor shared Pope Francis’s most recent declaration on the abuse. First, Pope Francis mandated that any “priest” who commits such acts of evil are no longer fit to be priests and will be removed. Second, all churches must fully cooperate with local law enforcement in any investigations into child abuse. (Thankfully, this can be done thoroughly without violating the seal of confession.)
The Gospels tell us that “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, for it is better for you to enter the Kingdom of Heaven maimed than to be thrown with two hands into hell, where the fire never goes out.” (Mark 9:43-48)
Seems to me that these PTSO’s are a hand of the Church causing it to stumble. After all, for people who were on the fence about Jesus, Christianity, Religion, or the Church, how could they possibly want to be associated with an organization where something like this happens? As the Apostle Paul writes to the morally-struggling church in Corinth, “…Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
In a later homily, the church pastor went on to describe the Church’s current state as comparable to Noah’s ark. I paraphrase:
“For forty days and forty night, and indeed for the days after the rains stopped, the ark floated. Noah and his family fed the livestock and shoveled out the excrement, and eventually, God guided that rudderless ship to a soft landing.
“As a Church, we must do the same. Feed the livestock. Shovel out the excrement. God will guide us through.”
The movie “Operation Valkyrie – the Plot to Kill Hitler” has a very powerful scene toward its conclusion. At the end of the war, Germany is in ruins, and even senior officials are starting to realize that they followed a madman toward near annihilation. Five men in the German army took it upon themselves to try and assassinate Hitler. Obviously, they failed. They were caught and stood before the firing squad. One man said to another, “God promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if he could find ten righteous men… I have a feeling that for Germany it may come down to one.”
There are more than ten righteous men in the Catholic Church. More than ten-thousand, and more than ten-million. And while the devil is probably lauding in the cancer-tentacle wedges he’s driving between people and God’s Word, these flood waters will recede and the Church will be baptized anew.