The recent uptick in reporting pedophilia and actions taken when discovered, especially among clergy and church workers at all levels has been constant and intensive. Congregational response to the dangers include background checks of nursery and church school workers, church employees, and clergy. It even extends to retrieving your child from Sunday School. Your local jail may have a less severe security policy.
Pedophilia reaches most moral adults with an intensity few other things do. Reactions to the disclosures have also been intense. This is one subject which is difficult to give any deep analysis without generating arguments or anathema. Fr Ernesto has managed to examine the various problems and theology involved.
Here is that analysis. See if you agree with his conclusions.
This time it was Ireland. So far, the Roman Church has had to apologize for major scandals in the USA, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Austria. The apology went farther than previous apologies. Nevertheless, victim groups were not satisfied. But, I found myself thinking theologically as I read the report and some of the responses of the victim groups.
In many Churches (not just the Roman Church) when a scandal is discovered, there is the tendency to minimize the scandal, to accuse pressure groups of overplaying the depth of the scandal, and, when all else fails, to say that the scandal was in the past, and why are we raking up stories from more than a decade ago. In some cases, such as one Orthodox financial scandal, there have even been transfers of priests and discipline of laity. There is a tendency to stress a quick forgiveness with few consequences. And, sadly, just like in the secular world, the people at the top rarely pay a serious price, be they Roman or Orthodox bishops, or secular Chief Executive Officers.
The victim groups tend to go off to the opposite extremes. Regardless of the cause, they insist on lifetime punishment, and many would go for capital punishment if they thought that they could convince the authorities to execute it. Many victim groups demand statements of responsibility that are so detailed that they go beyond the actual evidence of what happened into the realm of pure conjecture. Conspiracy-thinking is part of many victim groups. In fact, many of the statements that they demand before they would “forgive” would place the alleged perpetrators in such legal and financial jeopardy that there is little reality that they will ever be issued. This failure to issue a statement in wording approved by the victim groups justifies the continuing failure of the victim groups to forgive and their continuing active conflict against whomever they have deemed to have made them a victim.
But, what are we called to do as Christians? Well, the answer might be a little more complex than you realize. On the hand of the sinner, the person is called to repent. But, in Biblical terms, repent means to not simply be sorry for your sin, but also to change your direction and go in a different direction to change your style of functioning. Moreover, there is also the concept of restitution. In all cases, Biblical restitution meant not simply to restore what was lost, but also to pay above and beyond what was lost as a “penalty” for your sin. In cases in which restitution was not possible, other discipline was possible. But, more than that, there might be consequences that would be with you for life. In the Early Church, a priest who killed was barred from the rest of his life from celebrating the Eucharist, even if that killing was in self-defense. Other cases might bar a person from certain Church privileges for a period of time. Thus, robbery did not simply carry a burden of restitution but also barred one from Communion for a period of time. However, in many cases, that bar was not forever, but for a limited period of time. I have no problem with pædophilia being a lifetime ban from the active priesthood. I would have a problem with only one case being used to justify a lifetime ban, as there have been many cases of false accusations against both priests and lay people.
But, the victim also had responsibilities. Among the heaviest of responsibilities is that found in the Our Father, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiveness, regardless of the repentance of the perpetrator, is one of the heaviest of the responsibilities imposed upon us in all of Scripture. This does not mean that we cannot bear testimony in a court of law. Rather, the opposite is true, the Ten Commandments call us to bear true, and only true, testimony. That is, the victim is not to exaggerate testimony, but to say only what is true. Sadly, many of today’s victim groups specialize in the “I will never heal” school of accusation, in which they seek, always and only, the maximum penalty for any perpetrator regardless of the degree of their offense. In fact, I suspect that they often inadvertently encourage a type of false testimony by encouraging their members to not only state that they will “never” be healed, but also encouraging their members to be at each and every parole hearing to make sure that full vengeance is executed against the perpetrator. Notice that I said vengeance and not justice. Justice is a measured response, vengeance is a “how long can I manage to keep him in” type of response. There is a reason why the Old Testament set up the “Cities of Refuge.” That reason is that if justice were left up to victims, the response would almost always be injustice and exaggerated punishment.
But, I will also argue that the whole issue of perpetrators and victims also raises up some questions about our theory of the atonement.