FRAMINGHAM — Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley was just out of seminary when his friary sent him to serve as chaplain at the Butler, Pa., county prison. His first task was to preach to the inmates, but he had never given a sermon before, much less to such a tough crowd. He consulted his preaching textbook, which advised: “Speak into the horizons of your congregation.’’
Inspired, O’Malley gave a lively account of the Bible’s great escape stories: Daniel and the lion’s den, St. Paul escaping over the walls of Damascus in a basket, St. Peter in chains. The inmates listened, rapt.
“The problem was, that night, several prisoners escaped from the prison,’’ O’Malley said with a laugh during a recent interview. “And I was afraid my first sermon was going to be my last. The superior was very unhappy.’’ ...
O’Malley’s prison visits have occasionally included clergy convicted of the sexual abuse of children and, once, Joseph Druce, the prisoner who strangled John Geoghan, a dismissed priest and convicted child molester who had been accused of sexually abusing more than 100 children. O’Malley called Druce “a pathetically sick man.’’
“It was quite obvious that this man was not fully responsible for the crimes that he had committed,’’ he said. He paused a moment when asked what he says to a person like Druce. “I try to talk to people about God’s mercy.’’
Thanks to Lisa Wangsness for this very touching article and video. Thanks especially to the women at MCI Framingham who were willing to be interviewed, and to the regular volunteers in the prison ministry there.
Lisa Wangsness reminds us that there are Catholic priests in prison for sexually abusing children. But there are also many priests who have escaped punishment because their crimes were hidden by bishops until the statute of limitations lapsed. Indeed, Cardinal O'Malley continues to keep the names of credibly accused priests secret, although he promised in March 2009 to reveal them.
Reading about Cardinal O'Malley in prison, I found myself thinking of how many bishops belong behind bars, instead of “just visiting.” Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of Springfield was indicted in 2004 for rape of a child but did no time and is a free man today. There are 18 other bishops known to be accused of abusing children, and not one has gone to prison for his crimes.
Many other bishops (two-thirds of them, according to the Dallas Morning News ...) have enabled the sexual abuse of children. None has served time for that crime either.
I applaud Cardinal O'Malley's prison ministry. But Jesus also spoke about our responsibility to children: "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea." (Mark 9:42). On March 11, 2009, O'Malley promised to make public the names of priests who offended against children. We have waited nearly two years for him to keep his promise - in vain.