Pope Francis has been calling the Church to show forth the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ who died for us poor miserable sinners.
Yet most of the last two generations of Catholics, because of the generation before them who corrupted the Church's teachings, were handed on "coloring book Catholicism" and thus know very little about sin and how awful it is to the holiness of God. These coloring book Catholics and those of my generation and older who taught them it, failed to teach how awful sin is not only to God but to us for if we remain unrepentant in our sins we cannot enter into the holiness of God in heaven, where sin is vanquished and we are made holy, as holy as God is holy by God's grace.
These coloring book Catholics thus do not know how valuable forgiveness is, as well as reconciliation, because they do not understand the horror of sin. They appreciate the horror of civil crimes though and the punishment due the criminal especially through civil processes that lead to prison, fines and lawsuits that bankrupt individuals and institutions.
Yet they do not promote "rehabilitation" of anyone, especially those who might not have committed the actual crime, but did little or anything to prevent it or to stop further experiences of it.
This is especially true of the sex abuse scandal in the Church. We know certainly that the perpetrators of these crimes against young people should be prosecuted. That is the domain of the civil justice system and certainly no one in the Church, bishop, priest, parishioner or family member should stand in the way of such justice.
But we know that bishops, priests, laity and family members have shielded perpetrators and often have enabled further crimes.
What about the legitimate "repentance" of the more serious aspect of this failure, the sin aspect and then secondly the legal factor if laws were in place at the time nothing was done, for those who are guilty of enabling the sins of child and teenage molestation?
How would Pope Francis describe such a repentance that lead to forgiveness both on the individual level of the one abused and those who are alienated from the Church by the actions of abusing priests and those who enabled further abuse by no action or blind inaction?
And interesting controversy was brewing in Rome this past week. John Allen of the National Chismatic Reporter, NCR, captures it in an article yesterday when he writes the following:
"As a pastoral matter, however, it's not always easy to determine what "mercy" implies in concrete cases. In Rome right now, debate over whether a Catholic funeral ought to be held for Erich Priebke, a former Nazi SS officer responsible for the massacre of 335 Italians in 1944, including 57 Jews, illustrates the point."
What is interesting about this is my own connection to it through my father. In 1944 some 70 years ago, 10 years before I was born, my father as a part of the U.S. Army was in Rome finishing the victory over Nazis. The massacre of these 335 Italians happened shortly before my father and his group of soldiers arrive here, but he was able to see the place and the dead bodies of these Italians. He said it was one of the worst things he saw during the war.
John Allen continues:
"Priebke died Friday at the age of 100, having lived the last 17 years of his life in Italy under house arrest. Ironically, his death came the same day that Pope Francis received a delegation from the Jewish community of Rome, insisting, as he has before, that "a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic."
MY FINAL COMMENT: I realize that I am mixing apples and oranges. Priebke who died at 100 never admitted his guilt, does not seem to have practiced his faith ever, not even in the last 17 years under house arrest and has not or did not ask for forgiveness, especially public forgiveness. Perhaps a public decree of excommunication from the Bishop of Rome could have led to a public reconciliation. But there was no public excommunication.
But what about bishops who actually broke no civil laws in not reporting priests who had abused minors and broke no civil laws in sending them off to treatment and then reassigning them to parishes?
Today with 20/20 hindsight and new civil and canonical laws, we know that what was done all the way up to the late 80's and even into the early 2000's was wrong morally and after civil laws were enacted and this sort of thing done, there would be criminal negligence as will as mortal sin.
When a bishop apologizes for poor judgement and seeks forgiveness in a diocese, should that forgiveness be granted. Should we encourage those who were abused by priests or relatives, even parents, or others in authority over them, to seek to forgive their abusers? Seek reconciliation through God's Divine Mercy? Is this too radical for Catholicism today and do we fear the special interests groups, such as SNAP, who would crucify the Church for suggesting such a thing?
For example, when I was ordained in 1980 in Georgia, there were no laws in the state of Georgia that stated that clergy who learned that a parishioner was abusing children (outside of the confessional) had to report these crimes to the authorities. We did not have to do so if we entered into a counseling situation with such a person outside of the confessional. But that changed in the very early 80's maybe around 1982 or 83, I can't remember.
Would a priest who was under no obligation to report what he knew about someone who came to him, maybe not the perpetrator, but a family member, be guilty of not doing more to report the sinner to the civil authorities when no civil laws required it either of the priest or the family member who indicated what was happening?
Do we go after these people now with a vengeance as special interests groups, such as lawyers who are making mega bucks on civil laws suits and those who support these lawyers, such as SNAP, would urge or do we seek reconciliation and forgiveness in the Church and apply the salve of healing to this sad chapter, the salve of Divine Mercy?
I report, you decide!