Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why Should the Faithful Do Penance?

The bishops of New South Wales have told their faithful flocks in their joint Lenten pastoral letter Sowing in Tears what apparently is the call of all our bishops to the Catholics of this nation:
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference calls on all the faithful to join them in observing the Fridays of Lent in 2013 as special days of penance in the wake of the abuse crisis, by such means as prayerful reading of the Holy Scripture, a holy hour of prayer and petition before the Blessed Sacrament, and by traditional acts such as fasting and abstaining from meat. As your Bishops in New South Wales we undertake to lead you in these efforts and to continue to make a holy hour ourselves beyond Lent. We invite clergy and religious to join us in giving this lead and redoubling their prayers for this intention.

I am very pleased that the bishops will lead and set an example in all this penance.

But – forgive me, Your Eminence, My Lords – I must ask, why exactly should we, the lay faithful, do penance for the sins of such of our (past) priests and bishops who have been monstrously and notoriously unfaithful, not to say sinful, criminal abusers, co-conspirators in evil, very Judases, rapers of bodies and slayers of souls?

Forgive me – and I do know several of you – but I am rather unimpressed by this no doubt well-meant suggestion that we the "simple faithful" should participate in repenting for what we didn't do: au contraire, it will be not before time when not a few guilty parties in holy orders, yes, and not a few of their innocent brothers who we know should have been a good deal more vigilant and proactive, repent in sackcloth and ashes.

I think the clergy (and religious) should do penance for the sins of their brothers (and sisters) – it is their corporate body that has so conspicuously let us down, scandalizing the faithful, shaming us all before the scoffing world, bringing opprobrium upon Holy Church, giving new reason for all to hate Catholics, aiding atheists, pleasing Satan, and driving wounded souls from Christ.

Whose sins? Those in holy orders and in vows. Who covered up? Priests and bishops, religious sisters and brothers. What group as a whole ought therefore do corporate penance for the sins of their brethren? The clergy and religious congregations.

Who were the victims? The sons (and to a lesser extent, the daughters) of the laity. Who spoke out and protested but were ignored? The fathers and mothers of the abused. Who had to seek justice from the secular courts when the hierarchy proved worse than useless? Christ's faithful.

So, who should tell who to do penance? I think the average Catholic would be quite ready to tell priests – and I know whereof I speak – to work rather harder, and to do penance themselves, rather than nobly volunteer on behalf of the much-scandalized laity at large to join them in doing so!

Yes, yes, we are all one body, one spirit in Christ – and so the sins of one aggrieve and afflict all... still, I think I have a valid point... comments? If I am too harsh and impertinent in my words to my betters, mea culpa... correct me.


Kate Edwards said...

Actually I do think you are being a little harsh Joshua.
I agree that our leaders and those who actually committed these crimes should be doing public penance.

And I'm certainly not defending them.

But I think the story is far from being as simple as you suggest.

First, it wasn't just bishops who covered things up, but a whole networks of people, including (lay) judges, lawyers, magistrates, police, psychiatrists and more who contributed to the problem.

There are lay teachers who were guilty to, and lay principals who did not act.

And while it is true that the laity were mostly the victims - but not always, other clergy were abused by their peers and superiors to. Many were bullied and threatened into going along with the cover up by means as foul as those experienced by the other victims. And those who did resist are still suffering, mostly in silence, from the consequences of doing so.

And the reality is that the laity often did and do still contribute to the problem.

The laity did not always make it easy for the bishops to act.

I know of a more than a few cases where parishioners have vigorously defended the guilty, refused to believe the claims, and made it hard for the authorities to act.

Indeed, in one case overseas just a few years back that I was peripherally affected by, an internet campaign was launched in support of the priest demanding his return to ministry on the grounds that his placement on leave while the case was investigated was manifestly unfair since he was so transparently a holy man (not my own view I have to say)!

Moreover, in those older cases, how many parents actually went to the police? How many believed their child in the face of denials? In reality very few, not least because they too bought into the idea of protecting the reputation of the Church.

Joshua said...

Yes, I see what you mean.

Why have I written such harsh words? Well...

It just makes me so mad - furious - to hear more and more, worse and worse every year, about the "sins of the Fathers"...

What in Hell's name (not in Heaven's!) was happening for all those decades when all this filth flooded the Church?

Also, I mentioned in an earlier blog post, rather than all this wimpy hand-wringing and "we're so sad, we knew nothing, let's sing kumbayah and light a candle" schtick, how about the priests and bishops saying manfully "We are outraged and angry with the wickedness of our confreres"?

The passive virtues are insufficient: valour and action in the cause of right is needed. And prayer and sacrifice should be the business first and foremost of priests, "men who make prayer and sacrifice".

I think when we see real examples of penance on the part of our betters, rather than nice little letters, then the laity will be more inclined to play follow the leader.

Kate Edwards said...

I'm not sure I'd characterise the current pastoral letter as kumbayah stuff, it does seem to me a little tougher than they've managed up until now (though I agree they could go further).

The reality is, though, that too many of them can't express outrage at their comperes because the outrage in fact needs to be directed at themselves. And there are far too many Cardinal Mahony's left amongst them, who refuse to see what they did wrong, blame others such as Rome for what happened (not that Vatican bureaucrats shouldn't properly share some of the blame), and refuse, even now, to reach out to the victims...

Joshua said...

Basically, if here and in Ireland - worldwide in fact - if Canon Law had been applied, rather than the legal norms ignored and fashionable psychological advice applied instead, then the situation would have been dealt with a good deal better than it had. Covering up what the Church's own teachings and discipline insisted were vile sins and crimes unworthy of any priest only resulted in a proliferation of such offences.

I pray that the Pope - if not this Pope, the next Pope - removes Mahony from the Cardinatial dignity. That would "encourage the others".

If bishops had ruled, rather than smiled, for the last forty-odd years, then this mess would have been far better dealt with.

Gervase Crouchback said...

I think you are absolutely spot on Joshua. Repentance begins in the House of the Lord.