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:
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.