A Spiritual Remedy For the Damage Done to the Roman Catholic Church by the Sexual Abuse Scandal
Proposed by the Preacher to Benedict XVI's Household. Refuted In These Pages
By Lee Penn
December 15, 2006
On December 15, Fr. Cantalamessa (the preacher to Benedict XVI’s household) proposed a Church-wide day of penance for the clerical sex abuse scandal. Mr. Lee Penn has prepared, at our request, a comprehensive commentary addressing Rev. Cantalamessa's spiritual remedy to "...the abominations committed in her womb by some of her own ministers and shepherds."
Although the comprehensive commentary is essentially what Mr. Penn submitted to us, miguel de Portugal, echoes his evaluation and recommendations.
NOTE: The format used will the be quoting Cantalamessa and Townhall.com texts in italics followed by a commentary from Mr. Penn.
The Links to the full text of Cantalamessa’s sermon as well as the story at Townhall.com may be found at the end of this Document.
Quote, from the Townhall.com story:
Nevertheless, Cardinal Bernard Law remains in his cushy Roman retirement post as Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major and he still has the honors of the Episcopacy and the Cardinalship. Other bishops and cardinals continue the Scandal coverup and the worldly efforts at damage control. Priestly perpetrators continue to evade justice, in the US and worldwide. We are not in a time “after the emergency;” contrary to Fr. Cantalamessa, the Scandal continues.
The preacher to Benedict XVI thus shows how far we are from the end of the Scandal. Some of the perpetrators have been caught but many have not. Many abusers have evaded jail because Church authorities stonewalled release of documents until statutes of limitations had run out. The actions of the abusers are not “mistakes;” they are grave crimes. And while Cantalamessa rightly warns the abusers not to profit financially from their own crimes by “writing memoirs,” he seems also to be warning them not to blow the whistle on “their superiors and the ecclesial community.” In his sermon, Cantalamessa says next to nothing about the bishops and cardinals who magnified this evil by covering for the abusers. If this shows what the leadership of the Vatican has learned since the American scandal broke forth in early 2002, then Cantalamessa shows that they are still in denial about the extent and depth of the evil in the Church.
Advocates for abuse survivors have replied that words and gestures can go only so far; action must accompany words of contrition.
Quote, from the Townhall.com story:
“‘Decisive action protects kids, not nice gestures,’ Barbara Blaine, national president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement. ‘We’d much rather the pope discipline complicit bishops instead, because that’s what is just, appropriate and effective’. Blaine alleged that hundreds of bishops have covered up thousands of sex crimes. Mary Pat Fox, president of Voice of the Faithful, a lay U.S. Catholic reform group created in response to the molestation scandal, said the comments were a hopeful sign that Vatican leaders were beginning to understand the depth of the crisis. However, Fox said church officials should go further by punishing bishops who sheltered guilty clergy.”
I agree fully with what the leaders of the Survivors Network and Voice of the Faithful said in this case.
Words of penance mean little without amendment of life and reparation. As the Apostle James said,
“...a man is justified by works and not by faith alone...” (James 2:24)
As God told the people of ancient Israel through the Prophet Amos,
God told the people of ancient Judah through the Prophet Isaiah,
Only with deeds of justice will the words of penance be made effective.
For the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to repent of their part in the Scandal, they have to back their words with deeds. Ideas for such deeds, actions that would “correct oppression” and “defend the fatherless,” come to mind:
2. Take away his red hat, and degrade him from the episcopacy.
3. Do the same to all cardinals and bishops whose malfeasance abetted the clerical pederasts and molesters.
4. Direct, with all the disciplinary powers available to the Pope, the bishops and heads of religious orders, that fugitive molester religious and priests turn themselves in to civil authorities.
5. Suppress religious orders where pederasty (and other forms of molestation and abuse) are rife.
6. Suppress seminaries where the same conditions prevail.
7. Give a canonical trial to Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. If he’s found guilty, state that verdict publicly with the reasons for the judgment and impose canonical penalties on him, so that the Legionaries cannot claim (as they do now) that their founder is innocent but persecuted.
8. Formally investigate all “new ecclesial movements” including Opus Dei for sexual and emotional and physical abuse, recognizing that insular cults often foster such aberrations.
9. Release the names of all clergy and religious who are guilty of molestation and abuse. Name the dead perpetrators, too. Name all the bishops and cardinals,living and dead, who knowingly shuffled perpetrators from assignment to assignment. Name all those who are guilty, regardless of civil or canonical statutes of limitation.
The victims of abuse are serving life sentences of shame, despair, and distrust as a result of the treason of the clerics; publicly naming the guilty will assist them in recovery. No longer will any one of them think that they were the only victim of Father Pervert; no longer will their associates accuse them of “making it all up.”
10. Dioceses and religious orders should move on their own to settle civil suits, and to release victims from confidentiality agreements that stifle the victims’ ability to speak openly of what happened to them.
11. Dioceses and religious orders should stop using egregious legal defenses, such as claiming that the victims or their families were at fault for allowing the abuse to occur. Just because certain defense tactics are lawful does not mean that they ought to be used especially by an organization that claims to be the Body of Christ on Earth. In all cases, the church bodies and the hierarchs not just the lawyers and insurance companies are responsible for what they do in court.
12. Dioceses and religious orders should stop lobbying against legal reforms such as extending statutes of limitations and mandatory reporting of abuse to civilauthorities that would protect the innocent from victimization.
13. Investigate the manner of life of clergy and religious worldwide, with attention to reports of homosexual networks in the Western countries, and to reports of widespread heterosexual concubinage in the Third World. Allowing married clergy is one thing; it could be done without any change in Church dogma. But when the Hierarchy winks at widespread, long-term, covert sexual partnerships by its supposedly-celibate clergy, it becomes party to massive hypocrisy, and to the potential for abuse and neglect by the clergy of their clandestine spouses and offspring. Furthermore, clergy and religious enmeshed in secret partnerships are in no position to blow the whistle upon the pederasts and other abusers among their colleagues.
I believe that none of the above actions will occur in the present age, barring a miracle. These deeds, which would be “fruit that befits repentance” (Matthew 3:8), are unlikely so Fr. Cantalamessa’s suggested gesture of penance will probably prove to be empty. Therefore, the doom pronounced by John the Baptist upon the Pharisees and Sadducees [“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” Matthew 3:10] may well come upon the Hierarchy, its apologists, and unrepentant clerical perpetrators.
Nevertheless, there is some value to Fr. Cantalamessa’s proposal. I can see how and why the faithful can and should offer penitential prayer and reparation for the molesters and cover-up artists. Our prayers on their behalf will help them to repent and be saved. Christians pray for sinners and for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and the graces that result from our prayers will be applied by God wherever they are most beneficial, as God sees it. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and just as the evils of the Scandal hurt the body as a whole, penitential and intercessory prayers from the faithful can heal the body as a whole.
Aside from our own prayers of reparation, the faithful can do several other things to bring about a just resolution to the sex abuse scandal and we can do them, whatever the Hierarchy does or fails to do:
2. When the Hierarchy’s apologists blame the attorneys, the media, liberal legislators, and other scapegoats for the Scandal and its evil effects, do not heed their propaganda, and do not join their lobbying efforts.
3. When a victim accuses a priest, do not automatically assume that the alleged victim is a liar, and do not automatically assume that Fr. Fondle who is such a nice, charming man, and so good with the kids is innocent. Reserve judgment, and let the investigators prove or refute the allegations.
4. Accept that, if the full extent of clerical abuse is exposed and if all the perpetrators are removed from ministry, there will be consequences for all the laity. There will indeed be a great shortage of priests and religious. Many parishes and schools will close. Much will have to be paid to victims, their attorneys, and to the civil authorities. The secular influence of the Catholic Church will decline further. Such are the inevitable results of having unchecked corruption of the Hierarchy, priests, and religious over decades. Just as the guilty clerics should patiently accept their own punishments, so we the faithful should also patiently accept the radical downsizing of the Church’s earthly structures, to satisfy the requirements of justice for the victims and the fulfillment of the Will of God.
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