Cruel and Unusual Penance

Sad to say, the abuse of youths by priests and bishops is not entirely new in the Catholic Church. As we will see, it was also found in the 11th century. Some are asking how the can church show repentance for these terrible actions? What kind of penance might an individual who has been guilty of  abuse perform?

St. Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church (1007-1072), had something powerful to say on these issues. As a reformer of the church, he exhorted Pope Leo IX to enforce canon law which prescribed the following penance:

Advertisement

Any cleric or monk who seduces young men or boys or who is apprehended in kissing or in any shameful situation, shall be publicly flogged and shall lose his clerical tonsure.  Thus shorn, he shall be disgraced by spitting into his face, bound in iron chains, wasted by six months of close confinement, and for three days each week put on barley bread given him toward evening.  Following this period, he shall spend a further six months living in a small segregated courtyard in the custody of a spiritual elder, kept busy with manual labor and prayer, subjected to vigils and prayers, forced to walk at all times in the company of two spiritual brothers, never again allowed to associate with young men for purposes of improper conversation or advice.

Apparently Pope Leo IX did not follow this advice. We don’t know for sure, but perhaps he favored sackcloth and ashes. For the fuller account of the strong critique issued by Peter Damian--and how it is the same and different from the current crisis in the church--see the essay of  C. Colt Anderson,  “When Magisterium Becomes Imperium: Peter Damian on the Accountability of Bishops for Scandal,” in  Theological Studies, 65 (2004) 741-766. The essay is available on the Theological Studies Web site as a pdf download.

Peter Schineller, S.J.

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
7 years 4 months ago
Sorry if my initial post was too sarcastic. Still at the end of the day, Peter Damian called out the problem of molestation of children and the responsibility of Bishops to protect children 900 years before the so called ''liberals'' are accused of corrupting an unchanging priesthood.
It is also revealing that Peter Damian understood 950 years before the Bishops in America the need to separate the abusers from Children.
 

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

If we, the people, are ourselves responsible for the good of the state, then we have the same obligations that a medieval monarch once had.
Terrance KleinOctober 18, 2017
Poet Kim Bridgford hopes to publish an essay on every woman poet who has ever lived through the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline, which she edits.
Colleen DulleOctober 18, 2017
The Catholic Church in the United States is being transformed by its black and brown parishioners, whose numbers and voices are rising.
Mary C. CurtisOctober 18, 2017
Pope Francis prayed for the victims of a terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, that left hundreds dead and countless wounded in one of the deadliest attacks in the country's history.