By Arthur McCaffrey
WALTHAM, MASS.: The Beacon Journal recently reported on the formal installation of the new Catholic bishop of Cleveland, Nelson Perez (“ Cleveland rocks,’ new ‘bishop tells the faithful,” Sept. 6). The story highlighted his personal appeal to the laity for forgiveness for the church’s “horrendous” history of child abuse, as if this was a novel gesture after the dour administration of his predecessor Bishop Lennon.
Earlier this year Beacon Journal also published a column, “An innocent man still looks for justice,” about two men spending 16 years in prison for a murder they did not commit. Their $4.9 million settlement from the state didn’t “come close to just compensation for what they lost.”
And when an innocent child looks for justice? What is just compensation for innocence lost after being raped by a priest? Surely it must be more than just a gratuitous plea for forgiveness by the new guy on the job? What compensates for an abuse victim’s lifetime of suffering and PTSD dysfunction, while criminal priests walk free and the bishops and cardinals who colluded and covered up the crimes still get to keep their jobs, titles and privileges?
Instead of cost-free calls for blanket forgiveness, perhaps a more genuine gesture of sympathy and sorrow would be for bishops like Perez to resign out of shame for being associated with such criminality. Another bishop, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, teaches us a more honest lesson about how to respond to abuse and injustice. After President Mandela appointed him to chair South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1994, Tutu said decades of institutional injustice against victims of apartheid needed to be remedied in four ways: Apology, Punishment, Compensation and Reconciliation.
How does the Catholic Church’s response to its “horrendous” history of child abuse stack up against Tutu’s metrics of reparation? Well, we are knee-deep in church apologies and cash, with billions of dollars paid out for victim compensation, nationally and internationally — compensation not usually freely offered but litigated out of church coffers by civil lawsuits initiated by victims and their attorneys!
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