Mercy Toward Our Fathers: Difficult as it may be, forgiving priests guilty of abuse could be the key to healing.

On a frigid night last January, Joseph R. Maher, a successful businessman and president of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, spoke at a parish on Long Island in New York. Opus Bono’s mission is to provide help for priests who have been expelled from ministry because of accusations of sexual abuse. In the audience were priests, abuse victims and members of Voice of the Faithful. Although the opening prayer called for healing and reconciliation, the tension in the room militated against both.

In his talk, Maher argued that a large number of accused priests are innocent and that, abandoned by bishops and laity, they are denied the resources to clear their names. He spoke also of the need to give culpable priests opportunities to reform and return to active ministry. And he said that many victims who claim abuse are merely seeking financial gain, and argued against the suspension of statutes of limitation in cases of sexual molestation.

Although every one of Maher’s points had some validity, his failure to nuance them incited the audience. One after another, individuals came to the microphone to voice criticism of Maher’s insensitivity. What began as a good-faith attempt to bring together people concerned about both victims and accused priests concluded by exposing what one person in attendance termed “the still open wound on the soul of the church.” The discussion reached its nadir when one woman declared, “For such men no healing is possible.”

What does such a statement imply about the power of Christ’s redemptive love? Has the church, from top to bottom, determined that those who have sexually abused minors are outside of the circle of those whom God can forgive? Is there no grace left for them?

Healing the Wounded

Sexual abuse of minors is widespread; in addition to abuse by priests, many more have been abused by relatives and family friends. What healing can compassionate believers bring to the wounded?

Forgiveness, a key to healing, can be hard. Few betrayed and battered men and women can extend an easy absolution. Many find religious language offensive. For those whose anger and pain are still too overwhelming to consider forgiveness, a giant step might be, in the words of a therapist, to pray for the grace to want to forgive.

There is no question that victims must be appropriately cared for as long as they require it. Settlement money can buy helpful therapy. Systems must be put in place to deal with specific accusations, and all must remain vigilant to prevent today’s children from suffering abuse. Yet while these practices have widespread support, there is little talk of forgiveness of the abuser as part of the formula that contributes to healing.

One hesitates to approach the suffering created by sexual molestation, especially by clergymen, as one hesitates upon entering a surgical ward. We dare not touch the pain. We choose, instead, to leave it to the professionals. Unfortunately, the professionals may not always provide wise counsel. Consider therapists who advise against broaching the topic of forgiveness for fear of increasing the victim’s rage and impeding recovery, or attorneys who forbid contact with the victim because they do not want to risk a lawsuit, or church leaders who fear any wrong step will trigger an explosive media blitz that will further diminish their effectiveness as witnesses to the Gospel.

In this atmosphere, especially when it includes episcopal cover-up, it is not surprising that victims are unwilling to forgive their abusers. Their resistance is understandable. This hurt is not abstract; it is wedded to anger and rooted in pain, injustice, abandonment and a sense of betrayal. Among its long-term damaging effects is the possibility that, if left to fester, it can become a debilitating way of life. To remain immersed in suffering is to extend its power, even drawing loved ones into the circle of pain. Tragically, the children of the abused can be infected by their parents’ anger and obsession, leading to their own loss of innocence.

The Hard Work of Forgiveness

Holding onto anger has been likened to taking a sip of poison every day—not enough to kill, but more than enough to debilitate. Certainly some time must pass before the palliative value of forgiveness can be raised. The question is, how much time? There is no single answer. For some, forgiveness is the work of a lifetime; others manage to forgive more quickly, helped by people with the requisite sensitivity and wisdom.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it rule out punishment appropriate to criminal behavior. The Rev. Richard P. McBrien writes: “To be forgiven from a sin does not carry with it pardon for a crime or a guaranteed return to one’s former employment. A murderer who repents and confesses may be restored to the state of grace, but not to freedom.” Each murder case is judged in terms of mitigating factors, and different sentences are imposed.

Should we not also consider mitigating factors in cases of sexual abuse? Is it reasonable to exclude permanently all the guilty from ministry, to treat a one-time offender the same as a serial predator? Certainly some offenders need to be imprisoned or supervised so that they do not harm again. Some expelled priests find themselves pariahs, abandoned and isolated; in this state, a sense of despair may tempt them to seek victims again. Yet others, earnestly repentant, healed through therapy and support systems, pose no further threat and hold a proven record of dedicated priestly service. Ought we to judge any human being by the worst thing he has done, as if it were the only thing he has done? Can any of us endure that scrutiny?

The late Rabbi Abraham Heschel said that while it is important to consider all sides of destructive and broken relationships, it is essential to include God’s perspective as well. God’s own relentless pursuit of each sinner and saint finds expression in the father of the prodigal son, or the lover in Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven”; God longs only for the sinner’s repentance and homecoming.

Looking to Maya Angelou

Persons sexually abused as children might take some direction from the poet Maya Angelou. She was raped when she was 7 years old. So brutal was the violation that she was hospitalized. From her bed of pain and shame she spoke the rapist’s name. Arrested and released, he was later found kicked to death. Because she had uttered his name, the child blamed herself for her abuser’s death. Like others before and after her, she felt culpable, if not for the rape, then for its consequences. As a result, she refused to speak for five years. In her self-imposed solitude she became an avid reader, drinking in the wisdom of the ages from Shakespeare to Langston Hughes. Sitting silently in church, she would concentrate on the inflections preachers used to convey their passion. When she was ready to resume speaking, she had much to say and the tools with which to say it. Since then, she has embraced this formula for self-healing: One who has suffered a great evil must name it, learn from it, forgive it and move forward with courage and focus on the future. Forgiveness had no power to change her past, but it had enormous power to mold her future.

Many years ago during a television show on evil, Bill Moyers said: “Victims of evil must cope with the ugly graffiti that is scribbled on the walls of their psyche. Can they forgive the evildoers? Should they?” An answer can be found in the wisdom of the Quakers, who remind us that “forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.”

8 years 11 months ago
There were two articles to be written here, one about the victims seeking to heal and quite another about the abusers. To combine them was a mistake..... Forgiveness is a process. My brother was senselessly murdered in a drive by shooting a number of years ago. I have never felt the need to forgive his murderer and yet pray that God has done so. Louis Evely wrote, "You can endure the suffering in your life if you know it serves some good purpose." We have all to determine that in our own time and in our own way. Forgiving does not necessarily mean the end of suffering and the end of suffering does not necessarily mean one can forgive. It is certainly more complicated that your article conveys and yet we are all poor, we are all in need of healing, we are all children of God and we have been granted his grace. Thank you.
FRANK CANDALISA
8 years 11 months ago
We all too often forget that forgiveness is part of the healing process no matter what the cause of the pain. I think more people have to realize, as was stated in the article, "forgiveness does not mean forgetting nor does it rule out punishment...". It is very difficult to let go of a pain that has been a part of our lives for longer that we care remember. The longer we hold on to the hurt the longer we allow the person who hurt us to control our lives. This kind of forgiveness does not happen over night. It is a process that takes time, prayer, and God's Grace. The more we forgive the more we are able to love and be loved. It is good to be reminded that nothing is beyond God's ability to forgive. Thank you for this article, I don't think many people are willing to broach the subject of forgiveness in light sexual abuse by clergy.
Bruce Snowden
8 years 11 months ago
"Mercy Toward Our Fathers" by Camille D'Arienzo (America 8/18/08) offers a superior focus on the difficulty of forgiving priests accused of sexually abusing minors. Copies of this article ought to be offered to every Bishop for distribution to priests and parishioners in respective dioceses. Everyone motivated by truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, knows that homosexual, pedophilic and also a type of foricative rape of female minors as the case may be, by Catholic priests is not a "priest-thing" - it is a predatory "human-thing" infecting not only some Catholic clergy, but also some non-Catholic and non-Christian clerics as well. Additionally some laity of all Faiths, or of no Faith at all, male and female alike may also sexually abuse minors and it exists in all social strata and in all professions barring none! So, it's not a "priest-thing" as certain media often implies! We are a Fallen Race infected by tendencies to sin and crime in one way, or the other, fortunately rarely as youth sexual predators. Thank God! It goes without saying when an actual sexual crime has been committed by a priest, the offending cleric must face ecclesial and civil punishment, but the punishment by the Church must be laced with mercy and forgiveness as Christ would do. The Church (Bishops) and also the Faithful must never abandon an erring priest, no matter the sin, no matter the crime, but in every possible way reach out supportively offering merciful forgiveness as would Christ, including when necessary financial help and even medical help. It also goes without saying that all necessary treatment and support for years if necessary, must be given by the Church (Bishop) to clerical sexually abused victims and their families as Christ would do. This includes pastoral counsels to the abused and their families to be merciful and forgiving, mindful of the Lord's command, "Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful." To conclude, it is my humble opinion as Sister D'Arienzo implies in "Mercy Toward Our Fathers" that, no real healing can happen until parents of the abused teach their abused children by their example to forgive in mercy the abusive priest. Parents must teach their victimized children to forgive from the heart and I repeat again, respectfully, that they must do the same! And it is important to be ever watchful that predatory litigators smelling "blood" not be encouraged by victims and families to go for the kill, to "eat the sins of the poor" so to speak, I mean the sins of the poor forgiven as Scripture says by alms-giving, such alms being the singular greatest source of the Church's "riches!" But rather seek a settlement that is both just and charitable, not greedy and unreal!
Bruce Snowden
8 years 11 months ago
In case you are wondering "Mercy Toward Our Fathers" was just posted but my name now sent remained behind. Don't know how.
Bruce Snowden
8 years 11 months ago
In case you are wondering "Mercy Toward Our Fathers" was just posted but my name now sent remained behind. Don't know how.
8 years 11 months ago
Has Mr. Mayer listened to any of the abuse victims? They are broken people. A competent therapist will be able to detect the right time to suggest forgiving the abuser. A blanket call for forgiveness needs to be requested, not of the victims, but by the hierarchy who participated in covering up the abuse. How do we, the Church, begin to forgive the bishops? The hierarchy who transferred credibly accused priests from parish to parish without alerting pastors, who were aware of repeated accusations and continued to enable further abuse need to ask US for forgiveness. If confession is good for the souls of the faithful it is also good for our leaders.
MARY GRIESEMER
8 years 11 months ago
Thank you for putting into words what I feel so strongly about forgiveness. I have a dear friend who has extended a loving hand to two priests accused of abuse. She made them welcome at her table along with family and friends. From them we heard first hand the pain and humiliation they suffered. Because of my friend's total acceptance of these men and hearing their stories I felt God's abundant mercy and forgiveness. I have a new and deeper appreciation of Communion.
Katherine Lawrence
8 years 11 months ago
I agree the author and love the comments by Mary G. aug/12/2008. Regarding mary ellen's comment that "The hierarchy who transferred credibly accused priests from parish to parish without alerting pastors, who were aware of repeated accusations and continued to enable further abuse need to ask US for forgiveness," -- I understand the anger: in working with women who have been sexually abused as children, I learned that there is/was a culture that surrounded victims' inability to get help because family members, schools, institutions 'covered up'. This makes me realize that the problem isn't a 'priest thing,' or a 'catholic thing' but a human thing as the author suggests - and something we can change, yes?
8 years 11 months ago
Maher’s many accusations against survivors are just too painful to read, and I am sorry Sr. Camille did not address the distortions. Maher does not know what he is talking about, and I am simply too weary to gather the evidence here for refutation. (Dominican and noted survivor advocate Tom Doyle has written elsewhere on the myth of false allegations with *evidentiary back-up.* And the old canard again about money-hungry survivors belies my experience witnessing the debilitating legal process.) No wonder the meeting degenerated as it did. There are points to make about the role of forgiveness in healing but once again blame is assigned to survivors. Please leave them alone to make their journeys as best they can without singling them out for well-meaning but hurtful advice. Survivors have endured bishops playing the forgiveness card for years as a means of keeping them quiet and not pressing charges. Leon Podles has a discussion of forgiveness in his book, Sacrilege (available from Amazon), that I find interesting: “For the offending party (or anyone else) to ask for forgiveness of an offense without repentance is the sin of presumption. In fact it is worse than presumption, because it is asking a mere mortal to do something that is unbecoming to God. It is the “cheap grace” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer denounced the Church for preaching – forgiveness without repentance. Underlying this misunderstanding of forgiveness are nominalistic presuppositions…” p. 482-3. Bishops do not admit their true culpability; perpetrators deny and rationalize the truth of their abuse. We cannot move forward based on falsehood. For those abusers who do speak truth from the heart and repent, yes, forgiveness, but that should not provide an automatic right to reinstatement. Someone sent me the America link, and it is a good reminder of why I find the magazine too difficult to read on survivor issues.
8 years 11 months ago
I agree that forgiveness is indispensable for healing and, put simply, because Jesus requires it. However, forgiveness is made difficult or impossible for many victims and families by the intransigence of a church hierarchy that valued the institution over the victims. To date NOT One bishop who enabled or covered up these crimes has been punished. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed by much more than an apology from the Pope and his meeting with a few victims. I feel that the author was overly focused on the perpetrators and glossed over this issue. The real anger is at the hierarchy. On the issue of returning men to ministry, who will decide which of these people pose a danger and who will not? Certainly the professionals that the hierarchy supposedly relied on in the past failed utterly to do this. I think the institution also needs a thorough and fair administrative process for investigating allegations of misconduct so that an accused is not presumed guilty until found innocent, turning our Constitution on its head.
8 years 11 months ago
The cartoon drawing at the top of this article makes me angry. The poor priest being lowered from the roof to be healed by Christ. It should be the victim being lowered to be healed. I have to find a way to forgive myself then forgive the priest abusers. My way to God was obliterated by the priest. Catholics have no idea of how horrible it is to lose your Catholic God. But I had to leave the magical faith of my youth to find my way to a God. It's a hard road and NO ONE IN THE CHURCH IS HELPING VICTIMS WHERE THEY NEED HELP WITH SPIRITUALITY. First parishes have to listen to the victims speak of what happened, not offer 'retreats' and such first. We need a grass roots effort to reach out with warmth and kindness and do what it takes to help each victim.
8 years 11 months ago
Your article acknowledges a very important point as highlighted with this statement. => Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it rule out punishment appropriate to criminal behavior..... “To be forgiven from a sin does not carry with it pardon for a crime or a guaranteed return to one’s former employment. A murderer who repents and confesses may be restored to the state of grace, but not to freedom.” <= If the Church itself is looking towards forgiveness, they should also look to take criminal responsibility for enabling such behavior. Bernard Law in particular should be held criminally responsible for enabling such behavior. Bernard Law, if seeking forgiveness, should receive such forgiveness but should not receive a comfortable appointment at the Vatican and should be removed of any status in the Church. Should a principal be forgiven if this happened in their school and then remain a member of the school administration or have a position within any school? For the highlighted statement to ring true regarding criminal punishment and forgiveness, forgiveness should be received only when appropriate criminal punishment has also been duly accepted.
8 years 11 months ago
Abuse survivors and their advocates, myself included, are sick to death of hearing how we should 'forgive' those responsible for such grave spiritual wounding. We are particularly sick to death of hearing it from bishops, from priests, from those with the acronyms of religious orders following their names, and from organizations such as Opus Bono Sacerdotii. We are so sick to death of hearing it, that we've come to refer to it as 'the F-word' in the context of these issues. It may be unkind, but we still call into question whether what is being dispensed is divine wisdom or self-serving pablum. In my sad experience as an advocate, and as someone upon whom an attempt at abuse was made by my own spiritual director, I have found it to be mostly the latter. Oh, it's usually wrapped neatly in the Gospel message. (Or in this case Maya Angelou.) But when we get to the bottom of it, it seems to be a way to disarm the anger of the survivor against the institution whom the speaker or the author serves. So here we have a Sister of Mercy, a member of an order which has had its share of abuse issues, defending the use of the 'F-word' by an individual who, in another breath, accuses abuse survivors of being mercenary in their own motivations. What would motivate one to use the Gospel to defend the indefensible. I can find no other answer but personal and institutional self- interest. It is for priests and religious, and their supporters, to be very circumspect in their decisions to tell abuse survivors what to do and how to feel. They will forgive, or not, in their own time and via their own process. If all of these people using 'the F-word' would, rather than dispensing their 'wisdom,' come to abuse survivors and say "I'm sorry for what happened to you. Is there anything I can do to help?" and then listen to the survivors and do those things, we'd be a lot better off.
8 years 11 months ago
I vehemently take exception to the opinions voiced by Maher that there are many priests who have been falsely accused and that they can be rehabilitated. The number of falsely accused priests is so very minimal that it is not even worth mentioning. The number of victims who falsely accuse a priest just for the money is even smaller. And if Maher read any research at all, he would know that sexual offenders are not able to be rehabilitated. I respect him for wanting to help abusive priests, but he really should check his facts before he speaks, because so much of what he said is just completely untrue!
8 years 11 months ago
Comment on Comment No. 4: Mary Ellen Norpol, that was brilliant! Girlfriend, you sure ain't drinking that Bish Club Kool-Aid. Stay clean; we need you.
8 years 11 months ago
www.bishop-accountability.org/abusetracker for daily verified coverage, domestically, and globally, on the ongoing CRIMINAL Curia Cover Up costing laity many BILLIONS OF DOLLARS, with no end in site, no real correction, child endangerment a daily and pervasive issue, and no punishment or removal of the hundreds of very cuplable cardinals and bishops. Sexual assaulters are not curable, and neither are their mitered and red hatted enablers, aid, and abetters. Both groups are maligent cancers in the Body Of Christ and must be REMOVED. The solution remains what St. Peter Damien suggested almost 1,000 years ago: STOP DONATING LAITY. No Curia Accountability? No Laity Monies! Ciao e pace, Albino Luciani NOT Smiling From Heaven
8 years 11 months ago
As one who was raped as an adult by my priest, as one who was repeatedly treated as a liar, as one who: watched my health decline and my husband and children suffer from PTSD and Church induced rage, as I begged for help for other survivors and for a better approach by my Bishop, as the Director of Ministry knew nothing about abuse, as my parish rejected me, as my pastor further removed me from the praish setting, and as I began to lift my voice, I stood under a constant scorn of Catholic "forgivenss". Meaning, the Church has little understanding of the right of a person to move through trauma and the physical results of terrible pain and violence. Instead, we talk of forgiveness, so that WE can move on. How do we expect the vcitims to do that when we can't even hold the hands of the violated as he or she breaks apart. While I appreciate this article, I am once again reminded of good people talking about things that are plain hard for our "Church culture" to understand. Trauma kills! My hope is that the Church should will worry more about the well-being of the wounded and the violated, and let God take care of granting forgiveness to trauma victims in the Church. Support raped, molested and sodomized victims/survivors and their pain where they are, and forgivenss shall move in on God's time. Reminding victims that they should seek forgivenss too soon is to tell a person with a borken leg to get up and walk. The Church really, is blaming the victim all over again for "not getting over it" and that is another re-victimization by the Church. And then we say "forgive"!? I hope that people can stop and see the trauma rather than "what God has planned". That would be a major healing step for victims, and the Church. Peace, Kelly Mathews www.marquettedioceseclergywatch.org
8 years 11 months ago
Forgiveness, which is the restoration of the friendship that is charity, cannot even begin to take root without a full acknowledgment of the truth, and abusers and bishops are still fighting the full revelation of what they have done. The abusers and the bishops do not realize that they deserve to die for what they have done. Their perversion and their hardness of heart have defiled the souls of thousands of victims, placing almost irremovable obstacles between the victim and God, and have driven hundreds of victims to suicide. They will have to answer to God for the blood of those victims. Father Gerald Fitzgerald tried to get bishops and popes to stop the abuse, but they would not. He warned a bishop, “personally, I would want to spend the rest of my life on my knees asking for God’s Mercy, for I know no more terrible threat than the words of Our Lord, those who tamper with the innocence of the innocent, it would be better if they had never been born.”
8 years 11 months ago
When praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, I focus on 1. victims and their families (Agony of Jesus in the Garden) 2. abusing priests and all who protected them (Scourging of Jesus) 3. innocent priests (Jesus crowned with thorns) 4. future priests, that they may fall into category 3 (Jesus carrying the Cross) 5. changes to the Church, so that this will never happen again (Death and Resurrection of Jesus) Other survivors have tried this, and found it comforting. Peace, Lynn
8 years 11 months ago
Gabe (from Comment #11), you are sooooo right. This myth of false accusations is such a joke. What person in their right mind would go up against the bottomless pockets of the US Bish Club and their ruthless $$$$$$$$$$ attornies, who practice (with Bish Club encouragement) a scorched earth policy towards victims who demand accountability. Also, the PR spin woman who is the paid shill for the Bish Club says that out of the thousands of accusations, they have found only about four that are false. And who would want to discover false accusations more than they?!?!
8 years 11 months ago
I visited an abuse survivor of the Catholic Church yesterday. He's in a lock down facility for trying to hang himself just 6 short months after receiving 1.8 million dollars from the RCC. Give me a break on this priest continuing to lie for the church. I've seen the damage and money can't fix it! Gobs of unsuspecting Catholics money is being spent to try to keep the better evidence from coming out. This is another PR ploy to try to save face by a very corrupt institution. This priest will get a direct flight to hell when he dies for this obvious lie.
8 years 11 months ago
Regarding this article on Maher's comments at a meeting with survivors of abuse, not only did he insult those victimized he did not come close to reflecting the teaching of the Catholic Church on rape. Nor did the author of this article so much as mention this teaching specifically. When someone writes such an article with as much education as this person clearly has, one wonders what she's avoiding. See Catechism of the Catholic Church #2356 to see in print that the magisterial teaching of the Church recognizes the 'life long damge to victims of sexual violence and calls this crime always an intrinsically evil act'. Go to www.usccb.org to see this online in print. Bringing this teaching front and center to all would be a step for forgiveness because it clearly defines the grievous harm to the victim and the extremely serious evil committed by the perpetrator and anyone who covers-up such violence regardless of whether such sexual violence is perpetrated by clergy or family members or anyone. True forgiveness must look at the whole truth and its implications before experiencing healing or authentic reconciliation.
Elaine Tannesen
8 years 11 months ago
Forgiveness is a hard hard thing. A friend of mine said, “I need to go kick my father’s gravestone before I can forgive him”. It’s easy to be judgmental about someone else's need to forgive. But forgiveness is, indeed, a process, sometimes lifelong. It is also, I believe, so hard at times that it is only with God’s grace that it can happen. Let’s refrain from evaluating the state of forgiveness of the victims or even individual perpetrators. That is God’s business not ours. What we need to evaluate is the culture and patriarchal hierarchy of our church that valued the institution over the victims. Compliance and control continue to be in place and even promoted. I see no change here. In this culture it continues to remain easy to victimize the least powerful.
8 years 11 months ago
It is a sad irony that the week this article was printed, the deposition of Cardinal George as part of the huge financial settlement with victims in Chicago, was released. Once more the hierarchical failures - a major issue in bringing resolution of the division and hurt in the Church - has swept into headlines and calls for the resignation of the cardinal, head of the Bishop's Conference. It's a sad irony that the week this article appeared, a Statute of Limitations Window, long sought by victim groupss and therapists to protect children - a first prioirity. is coming before the Pennsylvania legislature and is being bitterly opposed by the Philadelphia hierarchy (previously excoriated in a grand jury report there). And not only there, major offensives have also been launched by major hierarchical figures in Los Angeles and Denver as well., as they seek to protect the institution instead. As already mentioned, there is litle doubut that only a few priests accused have been falsely accused. That does not mean that cumbersome Church processes in dealing with them have raised issues of fairness or ultimately forgiveness. But the article strikes me, at bottom, as lovely in intention but misfocused on how to move forward. Issues of episcopal (perhaps papal) accountability and making children's safety a real priority by support of SOL legislation are necessary preconditions to the reconcuiliation sough there!
8 years 11 months ago
all well and good Sr. Camille. However, these priests should have been arrested. I don't even want them punished at all -- JUST REMOVED FOREVER FROM DEALING WITH CHILDREN. You people just don't get it at all. You're an organization of criminals and people who cover up for the worstr kind of crime - rape of children. You keep missing the point. You need to get out of the business and start over and not be allowed around kids, and so it goes without saying that you are not moral authorities. why do you insist that you are? I am all for mercy - I pray for you all, however you need to all cease and desist.
8 years 11 months ago
Does one heal and then forgive or forgive and then heal? Certainly, forgiveness happens in God's time, not ours; sometimes it can take a lifetime or beyond. The Church is not now nor has it ever been above reproach or above the law, either civil or God's; history has borne out a none too complimentary picture of its misuse of power throughout the ages (Crusades, Inquisition, Middle Ages morality, the Reformation, etc.) since Peter was first Pope. It is, after all, an institution composed of human beings with all the accompanying flaws and limitations, not the least among them greed and ego. Still, despite its historical foibles, the essence of the truth of its teachings resonates for most of us Catholics who believe it to be the most viable vehicle to following in His footsteps as faithful disciples. He has no body now but ours. And that body has certainly been diminished in light of the recent clergy abuse scandals and their continuing behind the scenes cover-up and glossing over of the "unmentionable". Very simply put, it is the truth that will ultimately set us free if we are ever to be free of this elephant in the room. Doing the right thing has always been our mandate as followers of Christ, which involves respecting the basic truth that the individual has great worth and is loved by God as His own beloved child. Furthermore, this same individual is to be protected, cared for, nurtured, and loved by us brothers and sisters here on earth as sibling caretakers and imitators of our Father in heaven, not written off or sacrificed for the protection of the institution or its culpable hierarchy, fearful that they will lose control or authority. This applies to us all - victims, perpetrators, and we who empathize. Until the patriarchal Church is willing to do some deep self-scrutiny and soul searching to humbly recognize and act on that basic truth, any real healing from within is impossible in our time.
8 years 11 months ago
I, too, attended the meeting with Mr. Maher that Sr. Camille writes about. I have always had deep respect for Sr. Camille, but I cannot understand why her account didn't capture the arrogance and cruelty of Mr. Maher's address. Over and over again, he emphasized the "greed" of survivors who seek settlements. Many survivors and their supporters spoke during the open-mike portion of the meeting, and Mr. Maher treated them with scorn, sometimes laughing at their anguish. Members of Voice of the Ordained, who sponsored his talk, stood up to denounce him and his radical views. Why didn't Sr. Camille mention that in her article?
8 years 11 months ago
There are many steps in the process of healing of sexual abuse wounds amongst which is the first step the desire to forgive. Not necessarily to forgive just yet, but the desire to forgive, this must be the seed from which the healing fruits grow. Following the desire to forgive is the need to grieve for the many losses endured by victim and those affected by the abuse. Sexual abuse carries with many many losses, e.g. loss of trust, loss of childhood, loss of "normal" in life, loss of what the future should have been, loss of freedom, loss of innocence, loss of serenity etc. the losses are multitude. There is a need to journey through all these losses and grieve for each and everyone of them. And from this can emerge a sense of cleansing/healing. There needs to be helping for the victim to see past the sin to the sinner and see a wounded human being (he/she never ceases to be a human being even if wicked) and a desire for that human being to be healed also, so together they journey towards heaven. I strongly believe that when a victim forgives, that victim ties God's hands (so to speak) God also has to forgive because the victim, like Jesus, cries out "Father forgive him he doesnt know what he is doing" and the Father forgives because the words of His son Jesus are re echoed. That suing and and large sums of money and keeping the rage going has ill served the victims is undoubted. This sin, wound, trauma has served none other than the legal profession. It has done nothing for the victims or purpurtrators. In fact even where huge amounts of money have been awarded the victims have remained and remain victims and indeed have become more enraged. That healing and recovery is ill handled, yes. That recovery strategies are not geared towards healing, also yes. that purpotrators and victims need to heal, absolutely.
Thomas Couture
8 years 11 months ago
This is a very interesting article. I find it to be quite a departure from your norm, and much less than what I expect of your publication. This should be balanced with input from some of the victims as well as some of the parents of the victims. I certainly don't find myself and never have found myself (I hope) in a position to forgive such sins, Who am I? Events in recent years by Mormons with the Smart kidnapping and the forgiving ways this Family and greater community have left me in awe. The Menonites in Pa have also made me question my values and pray to be as good as these folks are at dealing with the pain they endured. They are both my heroes. This Catholic mess has me praying too,for the Priest, Bishops, Cardinals and clergy who have circled the wagons. It would seem, when I read the Bible and sacredspace.ie that Jesus gives us many examples to love our children and become more child like. These perverted acts, coverups and dragging out the procedures makes me pray for the perpetrators and what will become of them on judgement day.
8 years 11 months ago
[Mayer] "spoke also of the need to give culpable priests opportunities to reform and return to active ministry...Should we not also consider mitigating factors in cases of sexual abuse? Is it reasonable to exclude permanently all the guilty from ministry, to treat a one-time offender the same as a serial predator?" It's not only *reasonable* to exclude priests guilty of sexual abuse from active ministry, it is ESSENTIAL to do so. There is no other way to earn back the trust of the laity and the general public. In addition to the terrible harm done to the victims, good hardworking priests everywhere were tarnished by the actions of the the abusers. Forgiveness is one thing...stupidity is quite another.
8 years 11 months ago
What about abusers who fail to acknowldge, let alone repent for their crime, not just sexual ones? Abusers who put on a public display of 'goodness' and 'selflessness' with their victims. This essay totally passes over this issue as if it were a minor consideration, never the case, or not often the case. Evil is complex and nothing is gained by pretending it isn't so. One can and should forgive the geuinely repentant sinner. Who can claim to be a christian and not act with the understanding that forgiveness is one of the main arteries of christianity. Yet, it is a further (and crueler) lie to reduce abuse to a forgiveness issue before first looking deeply into the requirement for true repentance.
Livia Fiordelisi
8 years 11 months ago
I was saddened to read this article and would be curious to hear Sr. Camille's response to the many comments. Unfortunately, the article is indicative of what I hear (or rather do not hear) from otherwise caring, compassionate and responsible priests and religious around the issue of clergy sexual abouse and the institutional cover-ups that enabled it. Apart from some hand-wringing and head-nodding, sorrow for the falsely accused and worry over the Church's depleted finances, most clergy and religious remain essentially mute, unable or unwilling to take a public stand against the power structures that allowed the abuses to flourish. The fallback response seems to be to blame the victim, first for disclosing, then for demanding justice and change, and finally for not forgiving on cue. This "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" attitude is in part what led to and still perpetuates the scandal. The Church is in great need of powerful, truth-filled voices.
8 years 11 months ago
The sad reality is that Catholic Church is still in denial and looks for excuses and the argument for forgiveness is nothing but another con job. When I was in Catholic schools we were regularly punished for bad behavior. How have the Priests who are guilty of most grievous betrayal of authority been dealt with. What about the higher ups who did the cover up. They used the legal process to limit their liability. Sister would have a different opinion had she been subjected to the abuse the children suffered.
8 years 11 months ago
Most of the comments on Mr. Maher’s remarks are simply reminders that there is to be NO forgiveness from anyone associated with our Church! Where is the love, the compassion, the forgiveness that our Lord demands of us? Incarcerated priests are wounded as much as their accusers are, and it is absolutely shocking to me that no one in the hierarchy has asked for prayers for these priests. For several years I have been asking for some priest, bishop, or cardinal to speak out and to remind people that we are called upon to visit prisoners. Nowhere does the Bible say that we should visit prisoners “unless they are priests.” There is much, too much, talk of the “victims.” Has no one noticed that the number of victims coming forward increases in accordance to the amount of money being handed out? Take off the blinders! Everyone who has not asked for prayers for priests in prison should be ashamed, and should be on their knees asking forgiveness of God and of the priests who ask for nothing more than prayers for their accusers and for themselves. Where are their brother priests? Where are their former parishioners? Where is Christ in them? Mr. Maher said what needed to be said. Those who have ears should listen!
8 years 11 months ago
I believe that there is a lot of misplaced anger towards the bishops. Consider that none of the abuses or the followup to the abuses took place without many other players; namely, the psychiatrists and psychologists and lawyers and police authorities who advised the bishops. Many abusers were sent under professional advice to treatment or simply ordered to, "get out of town in 24 hours". That's the way things were handled in the past but it is not to be laid solely on the bishops. What is another real injustice is the laying on of accusations from many years before against often deceased or incapacitated priests who have no chance to defend themselves; often these accusations are from "recovered memories" which are scientifically proven unreliable. Another injustice is the bending to what is really extortion by the legal system and forced acquisence to this extortion. Another injustice is the unrepentant major newspapers which have not corrected false accusations and restored the reputations of those falsely accused even when they know or should know about this outcome in some investigations. What is a further injustice is referencing the "abuse crisis" by even major Catholic theologians in respectable journals as an adjunct argument to other positions they are trying to promote. My own anger is aimed also at the bishops, but for another reason - it is just a shame in my view that the Catholic Church even has any assets that can be had. Too bad all the property and money used for payouts wasn't long gone in providing education, housing, health care and food for all who needed it!
Paul Murray
8 years 11 months ago
As an editor at America, I feel I should offer a defense of Sister Camille D'Arienzo. She makes it clear in her piece that forgiveness is never something than can be forced upon someone, that the victim of abuse be allowed to deal with the terrible hurt at his or her own pace. Sister Camille also acknowledges that some victims deserve restitution, especially if money can help pay for much needed therapy. Nor does she argue that priests guilty of abuse--or the bishops who reassigned them--should escape punishment. What she does do (bravely, in my opinion) is to make the crucial point that no sin no matter how great is beyond forgiveness. Unfortunately I am afraid many people are afraid to broach this issue lest they incur the criticism that Sister Camille has been subject to. To hear more from Sister Camille, listen to our podcast conversation. I think it is clear that she is horrified by abuse, and that her article was not intended to cause any more hurt for the victims. Her genuine anguish is, I think, clear: http://media1.podbean.com/pb/74ae0a7575658cebeb8183c484e1e435/48ab1716/blogs/13391/uploads/podcast-46.mp3
8 years 11 months ago
Dear Sr. Camille, Your article sent me straight to my Spiritual Director, a Holy Cross priest. In the course of our weepy conversation, I disclosed my past and why the honeymoon is over with the CC, thanks in part to your peaceful, disturbing, subtle, in-your-face, loving/tormenting article. All the old hurts just ganged up on me and spilled out while reading it. As I told my Fr. David, "It's like this old callus scab on foot that won't heal cuz it keeps rubbing against my shoe!" He looked down at Old Scabbie, his eyes lit up and he eagerly told me, "You know, our mothers taught us not to pick scabs, but I read an article in the paper about how doing so now and then actually helps healing!!!" We laughed, and later in the day I ripped that old thing open. Guess what? It's healing MUCH better now. The honeymoon may be over, but I still love my CC and the Jesus I have found here. We help each other, and you have helped me. Thanks and blessings, L
8 years 11 months ago
Great discussion here. For me forgiveness will be much easier when true change in our Church comes. In spite of what many claim, I believe this to be very much a "priest problem" by fact that these men are celebate loners, with lots of down time, left to their own loneliness. I have known dozens and dozens of priests, and have never met one who, by the age of 50, wasn't a depressed alcoholic, sexaholic, or workaholic -- or hasn't left the priesthood. Think about the priests that you've known and see if this applies. Did God intend for them to be so lonely? I don't believe so. Could our Church be greatly strengthened by married priests? I believe so. Many healthy men would flock to serve if this were the case. But the current Church would never allow this, for it would mean a loss of power, position and priviledge. The good news here, whether Church leaders see it or not, is that the priesthood is dying. It is over in the corner, lying on the floor, bleeding to death. And thank goodness, for so many of us, because of its many sins, no longer believe in the priesthood anymore. Certainly our kids won't. Perhaps when it dies completely, I will forgive.
DON ZIRKEL
8 years 11 months ago
If Joseph Maher's non-nuanced talk incited the audience, so -- unfortunately -- did Camille's carefully balanced presentation. Obviously, we must start from the point of view of the victim, but must also try to understand the actions of many bishops. Harder still is to put oneself in the situation of the priest who served us well for many years, and failed once, and has repented. Is there nothing we can do for this broken member of our family? As Mary Griesemer points out, we can break bread with him. The first 25 comments you published prove that we must deal with "the open wound on the soul of the church." It seems unfair to criticize Sister for the many valid points she did not make in such a short article. If it were not published, this healthy dialogue would not be taking place.
8 years 11 months ago
The sister mentions "the Quakers, who remind us that “forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.” That is a very juvenile concept of forgiveness which neglects the profound importance of the actions of both abuser and victim in the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness must come from those, specifically harmed and will be delivered to the abuser. The perpetrator must show that their remorse is sincere, that they are trying to turn their lives around or have succeeded in doing so and they must fully confess all of the wrongs they have done and, only then, should they be encouraged to meet with their victims. Even then, some victims, if not most, may not be able to face their abusers. The abusers should fully understand that. To look at forgiveness as solely a gift the abuser can give to themselves completely overlloks the important moral principles involved for both parties and thusly makes forgiveness an empty vessel. In this specific context,, there are some very disturbing aspects of the sisters philosophy, revealed in her recent National Post interview: http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2008/08/19/love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin.aspx?CommentPosted=true#commentmessage The first being that she claims these sexual abusers have an addiction. This is a strange religious perversion, in that these horrid acts should be viewed, particularly from a religious perspective, as a sin and secularly, as a crime. It is highly disturbing that she doesn't use either term. As such, she deflects much of the personal responsibility that these individuals must take upon themselves. It is equally disturbing that she believes these sexual abuse priests are serving a spiritual death sentence, because of the way the Church has treated them. In fact, if these priests are serving a spiritual death sentence, it is of their own choosing and no one else's. These priests can work to bring forth their own spiritual rehabilitation if they so wish. For them, the death sentence is self imposed, if it exists, at all. Again, the sister deflects the moral duty and responsibility of the offenders. Very disturbing. Part of expiation and atonement is taking full responsibility for ones actions/sins. The sister seems to overlook that. The sister is wrong, in her thinking that many don't have compassion and forgiveness. The problem is that neither the Church nor the priest offenders have taken complete responsibility for these horrible acts. All of the priests and all of the leadership that moved the priests around or otherwise enabled them should have, immediately been turned over to the legal authorities. Most believe that still hasn't been done. As far as the abusers being brought back into the service of the Church, the abusers should perform penitent acts in those locations which are highly secured and which are the most remote from children. They should remain their until their deaths. Why? Only because of the possibility that they may offend, again. That is the very best of good reasons.
8 years 11 months ago
CORRECTED VERSION The sister mentions "the Quakers, who remind us that “forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.” That is a very juvenile concept of forgiveness which neglects the profound importance of the actions of both abuser and victim in the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness must come from those, specifically harmed and will be delivered to the abuser. The perpetrator must show that their remorse is sincere, that they are trying to turn their lives around or have succeeded in doing so and they must fully confess all of the wrongs they have done and, only then, should they be encouraged to meet with their victims. Even then, some victims, if not most, may not be able to face their abusers. The abusers should fully understand that. To look at forgiveness as solely a gift the victim can give to themselves completely overlooks the important moral principles involved for both parties and thusly makes forgiveness an empty vessel. In this specific context,, there are some very disturbing aspects of the sisters philosophy, revealed in her recent National Post interview: http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2008/08/19/love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin.aspx?CommentPosted=true#commentmessage The first being that she claims these sexual abusers have an addiction. This is a strange religious perversion, in that these horrid acts should be viewed, particularly from a religious perspective, as a sin and secularly, as a crime. It is highly disturbing that she doesn't use either term. As such, she deflects much of the personal responsibility that these individuals must take upon themselves. It is equally disturbing that she believes these sexual abuse priests are serving a spiritual death sentence, because of the way the Church has treated them. In fact, if these priests are serving a spiritual death sentence, it is of their own choosing and no one else's. These priests can work to bring forth their own spiritual rehabilitation if they so wish. For them, the death sentence is self imposed, if it exists, at all. Again, the sister deflects the moral duty and responsibility of the offenders. Very disturbing. Part of expiation and atonement is taking full responsibility for ones actions/sins. The sister seems to overlook that. The sister is wrong, in her thinking that many don't have compassion and forgiveness. The problem is that neither the Church nor the priest offenders have taken complete responsibility for these horrible acts. All of the priests and all of the leadership that moved the priests around or otherwise enabled them should have, immediately been turned over to the legal authorities. Most believe that still hasn't been done. As far as the abusers being brought back into the service of the Church, the abusers should perform penitent acts in those locations which are highly secured and which are the most remote from children. They should remain their until their deaths. Why? Only because of the possibility that they may offend, again. That is the very best of good reasons.
8 years 11 months ago
I wonder how forgiveness could be questioned in a Catholic - Christian context, when we know that to forgive is not something optional, but we are commanded to forgive by the Lord! To forgive we should not only these people but even more horrendous criminals, without condition. And it is possible humanely - and with the help of grace - as numerous martyrs, saints from the history of the Church (beginning from Jesus on the Cross who said what he said for an education of all) and Holocaust survivors can attest. And we all should strive to become saints! We should forgive also those who don't ask for forgiveness, even those who maybe don't even realize that they committed something against us. We are called to be people of forgiveness! I am convinced also that the healing of any victim of any crime necessitates forgiveness, it should be one of the steps of their therapeutic process to forgive the perpetrators.
8 years 11 months ago
This article asks some hard questions. I am not a parent so I do not claim to understand how the parents of abused children feel. But I do remember that our Lord Jesus Christ said more than once that above all other forms of worship He would have mercy. It is a point to remember even in the face of understandable and justifyable anger.
Nick Battaglia
8 years 11 months ago
Healing? This wound hasn't stopped bleeding yet. This wound hasn't been cleaned up yet. In time, I pray that the victims, the predators, the obfuscators, the church, and the world will all heal. But it's not time yet. And Joseph R. Maher and Camille D’Arienzo don't get to say when it's time.
WILLIAM BARRY SJ REV
8 years 11 months ago
Kudos to Camille D'Arienzo, R.S.M. and the Editors for raising this taboo topic in such a nuanced and genuinely hopeful way. The rash of responses reveals that the sexual abusis crisis is "the still open wound on the soul of the Church" a wound in need of healing. Perhaps because of your courage we will, as a church, be willing to look at some creative ways toward such healing. Has anyone thought of using the model of South Africa's "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" as a way toward such healing for us? Has anyone asked the abusers if they would be willing to speak of how they came to act on their impulses and to ask for forgiveness? Let the healing begin. William A. Barry, S.J.
8 years 11 months ago
Forgiveness. Now there is a word that Joseph Maher and Carmille D'Arienzo have views about. Let's start with another word JUSTICE. I doubt either of them know about it. The Catholic hierarchy don't know anything about it. Has the abuse information only just trickled into the Vatican and the upper echelons of the Catholic Church? There are still major players at the highest level in the Church covering up (the Cardinal Law case (a major denial of justice to many) is an example in the USA and there are others elsewhere. The cat and mouse game played by the Vatican with the visits of the Pope to USA and Australia and the "apology" to some victims - all carefully selected. A very rich and powerful Church denying money to victims for care is seen everywhere. At no time has there been any observable move by a Bishop or higher level member of the Church to engage in the JUSTICE issue except to try and limit claims by victims. No it is really too early to talk about forgiveness yet. We need to first of all see some JUSTICE. And by the way, yes, some rehabilitation for those "religious persons" who are offenders. Perhaps some placement with the deviant and deranged of the society with access to very limited resources and help, where they might be able to live in fear of their own lives and experience the hell and nightmares on earth they have created for their victims. Yes when this has occurred then perhaps it may be time to ask the victims of the abuse IF they are ready yet to think about forgiveness. In the meantime Maher and D'Arienzo should remain silent.
8 years 11 months ago
I cannot understand the ignorance of people (especially Catholic)who are sympathetic to perpertrators of henious crimes such as rape, sodomy, abuse of children just because they are Catholic priests or bishops. Terrible crimes have been committed. Though criminals need forgiveness and victims need to forgive, the fact remains criminals need punishment and victims need justice. I further cannot understand why Catholics seek to console and support wicked clerics and ignor and vilify innocent victims and their families. I cannot accept the silence of the bishops who share the guilt of the rapists by their lies.
8 years 10 months ago
"[F]orgiving priests guilty of abuse could be the key to healing" is the subtext of Camille D'Arienzo's article under Faith in Focus (August 18-25, 2008). Although the author carefully acknowledges the huge impediments to forgiveness from those sexually abused by clergy, she fails to cite one of the fundamental barriers for those abused, their families, and even for the average person in the pews. Truth and accountability are indispensable for any threshold of forgiveness. Without them, survivors are being asked to forgive not only their direct abusers but also the very same hierarchical leaders who continue to abuse them through corporate defense strategies, secrecy about the full extent of abuses, and demonization of survivors whose only realistic option for justice (however inadequate) is civil suits and/or financial settlements. As is plainly evident from the recent deposition of Francis Cardinal George in Chicago, the actions of hierarchical leaders betray their own expressions of deep apology and especially their expectation of forgiveness. Perhaps a better statement would be "[T]ruth and accountability could be the key to forgiveness".
John Moynihan
8 years 10 months ago
Let the discussion about forgiveness rise up from those who are the victims of this evil. Let the rest of us Catholics, including Sr.Camille D’Arienzo and the "successful business man" Maher, focus our attention on taking full responsibility.
Marie Rehbein
8 years 10 months ago
Matthew 18:6 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!" What does that mean, "Such things must come"? Doesn't it mean that there is no getting around it? So, how do we get through it? Do we hate or do we pity and pray, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"?

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