Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A deacon's proposal for public penance - The Deacon's Bench

A deacon's proposal for public penance - The Deacon's Bench

A Deacon has proposed a very interesting suggestion. Although the percentage of clergy who actually committed acts of child abuse are extremely low, even on case is one too many. Any and all cases of child abuse are unacceptable and reprehensible. At the same time, there is solidarity in suffering and when one member hurts, the entire body feels the pain. Deacon Kandra asks that the bishops make some public act of penance for all the bad decisions and bad actions done by their ordained brethren over the past five decades.

I think there is some merit to his idea. If every deacon, priest and bishop around the world did a brief, silent but poignant act of public penance, like kneeling for one minute facing the tabernacle BEFORE the beginning of Mass AND/OR if we clergy also voluntarily fasted and abstained every Thursday for one year. Some will sarcastically say it is nothing more than a symbolic gesture of futility while others will be indignant and say it is tantamount to a public admission of guilt when only a small minority were actual culprits. Nevertheless, by virtue of Holy Orders, all the ordained (deacons, priests and bishops) are brethren and we need to express sorrow for the mistakes, sins and crimes some of our fellow clerics made in the past, whether the abuse itself or the cover-up afterwards. Yes, most of us, thank God, did not misbehave but some did. When one brother sins, shame comes upon the whole family even though there is no culpability. Public penance is not an admission of guilt but it is symbolic reparation. Prayer for atonement is always a good thing. Humility is a desirable virtue, is it not?

Pope John Paul II did as much for the excesses and crimes done by some individual Catholics during the Crusades, the Reformation and throughout Christian history toward the Jews. He never claimed the Church as a whole was guilty since she is the spotless Bride of Christ. Her individual members, however, clergy, religious and laity alike, have fallen short of the mark. Some victims will not be appeased but this is not meant to whitewash nor smooth over past evils. Individuals who committed abuse, whether it was done by a priest, deacon or bishop OR by a parent, sibling, teacher, coach, scoutmaster, neighbor or relative, should be punished, no if's, and's or but's. Corporately, as the Mystical Body of Christ, we all share in the PAIN felt by victims and those of us who are ordained share in some small fashion in the SHAME incurred by all religious leaders whenever any one of our colleagues abuses others by abusing his position of authority or honor.

As a priest, I am embarrassed each time another incident is revealed of sex abuse of children by a clergyman. I feel no guilt since like the overwhelming majority of ordained clerics, we are individually INNOCENT of any abuse to minors. Out of JUSTICE, it is imperative that we continue to point out that the majority of sex offenders are not clergy but are family members. The second largest number of culprits are teachers, coaches, scoutmasters, neighbors and other relatives. The smallest percentage is clergy. Sadly, there have been enough clergy abusers and victims reported in the media to make the appearance that this is an epidemic. It is NOT. Celibacy is not the cause nor even a contributing factor since the most populous of sex offenders are in fact married laymen and not ordained celibates.

Besides the attrocious incidents where sex abuse was apparently covered-up and culprits merely transferred by a few bad bishops, we have the unfortunate cases where some good bishops were given bad advice, insufficient information or worse yet, offenders were treated and given a clean bill of health. Those psychiatrists who claimed to have 'cured' the pedophile caused a false sense of security. The medical professionals are the ones who told many bishops to return the cleric to regular duties as part of his therapy and treatment. When he abused more victims, however, who got the blame? The doctor or the bishop? Better if we had sent these guys to a cloistered monastery where they would spend the rest of their natural lives in solitude, even away from the main community. No temptations and no opportunity for misbehavior. A spiritual sort of house arrest but one with teeth and one similar to solitary confinement in prison.

Of course, the outrageous lawsuits and constant litigation to sue dioceses, bishops, cardinals and even the Vatican do not want any public act of penance. They thrive on greed and revenge, rather than being motivated out of justice.

In the past, discretion was seen as a way to protect the victims and their families as well as the common good. A few abused that approach and perverted it into coverup and denial. Today, the buzz word is 'transparency' yet we still find sealed files and records whenever minors are involved for good reason. Confidentiality, especially the sacred seal of confession, cannot be sacrificed just because a minority has misused prudent discretion. And most of all, we as Americans, of all people, must cherish and defend our time honored principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'. Credible allegations only allow a complete and official investigation. Once facts have been discovered, they must be evaluated by a judge or jury. Sadly, the mere existence of a charge of misconduct is enough to ruin someone's life and future not to mention their reputation.

Bottom line, more good can be achieved if more prayer was offered to God. Policies and programs are tools but the real answer is the conversion of sinners. Society has desensitized the public to many abberations of human sexuality. Children are biologically maturing sooner and emotionally much later. Fashion, culture, enterntainment, etc., is prolific with sexual overtones and innuendo. While none of these is an excuse for child abuse, they all contribute to a global distortion of the dignity and sanctity of human sexuality as reserved for HUSBANDS and WIVES (i.e., men and women married to each other) and oriented toward love (unity) and life (procreation).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

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