Tuesday, October 15, 2013


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."

Priebke was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996 by an Italian court for organizing the infamous Ardeatine caves massacre, in which 335 Italians were executed in reprisal for an attack on German troops by antifascist resistance forces. By his own admission, Priebke personally shot two of the prisoners and supervised the deaths of the others.
Priebke never expressed public remorse, insisting he was following orders, and after his death, his lawyer released a seven-page testament in which the former SS official essentially denied the Holocaust, claiming that alleged crematoria in Nazi concentration camps were actually large kitchens for feeding inmates.
Today's debate boils down to this: Given that Priebke apparently identified himself as a Catholic, though there's little evidence he ever practiced the faith, should a funeral for him be celebrated in a Catholic church?
Francis may well take a personal interest in the matter, given that Priebke fled to Argentina after the war and spent 50 years living comfortably in a Buenos Aires suburb prior to his extradition to Italy in 1996.
On Saturday, the Vicariate of Rome under Italian Cardinal Agostino Vallini, which administers the Rome diocese in the name of the pope, issued a statement saying no funeral for Priebke would be held in a Roman church."
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!


rcg said...

We think like secularist and exercise their values when we present ourselves a false dilemma based on the vain sense of charity that comes from believing one has subjugated God. If the reports of Priebke's intransigence are true, then he passed his own judgment, we have nothing but our own hubris to lead us to think otherwise. We are withholding nothing that he deserves or valued. As far as human powers go, he is forgiven; what happens beyond is not our call.

The same goes for the abusive priests and their facilitator bishops. We are on a razor's edge and are chartered to find justice as Christ would have it with these people. This would be neither to reprieve ourselves of the responsibility to act against our most loved and treasured shepherds, nor to display them in public wearing their own intestines as a necklace. It is clearly something in the middle limited by by the fullness of our humanity.

In both examples of this post we see humans trying to not so much act as God would like, but trying to get God to act as we would like. We take Him at His word when He says everything can be forgiven. We, therefore, feel permitted to do anything that comes to mind believing that we can waive our Get Out of Hell Free card in His face demanding forgiveness. My theological betters can correct me, but I think there is one unforgivable Sin and that is the offense of the Holy Spirit.

We are 'only' not giving an unrepentant murder a Requiem Mass and burial. We are 'only' removing clergy from positions that they used to break laws of both God and man, injuring the souls of those they should have defended. There is a simple logic in what they both did: they did not care for their relationship with God or the Church. So we are taking nothing from them that they value.

Gene said...

As bad and disgusting as the molestation scandal and cover-up are, it is being used as a huge distraction. The enemies of the Church use it as a weapon because it is a particularly effective emotional trigger which also activates people's voyeuristic and scandal hungry mentality. Devout, believing Catholics are captured by it for the emotional reasons, but also because they have been successfully manipulated by the media and the Church's enemies.
All of this distracts us from other things...such as the de-construction of the Liturgy, the diluting of Catholic identity, and the increasing secularization of the Church.
So, which is worse, sexual crimes (for which there is atonement and forgiveness within the traditional structure and doctrine of the Church), or the teaching and promoting of heresy, which strikes at the soul and robs the Church of that structure and doctrine which guarantees forgiveness to the truly repentant and salvation to those who earnestly seek Him? The darkest evil is far more subtle than a scandal which grabs headlines and feeds salacious and voyeuristic popular response.

Pater Ignotus said...

Even if we are not "mandated reporters," we have an obligation to go to the authorities, civil and ecclesiastical.

I asked a lawyer, way back in the late 80's, about this. "Father, if someone came to you outside confession and admitted to robbing a bank, you would then have knowledge of a crime and could be liable to prosecution if you did not report it. The same goes for any form of sexual abuse" he told me.

Henry said...

"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"

Why, in the name of all that is holy in centuries-old Catholic moral doctrine, should hindsight be required to see the sin involved? How could priests and bishops have committed these grievous sins without realizing the need for confession before their next morning Mass?

I recall writing my bishop after the 2001 USCCB meeting in Dallas that was devoted to this, asking why all the discussion among the bishops was about PR and legal protection (of themselves), with no mention whatsoever in hours of televised discussion of their sin and need for repentance.

Henry said...

PS. These are not merely rhetorical questions. To this day, I simply do not understand how clerics (especially) could have committed such sins without prior consideration and subsequent remorse. To have done so mocks their pretended sincerity in the practice of the faith.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The use of the Sacrament of Penance and therapy were employed because it was a mortal sin. Was it always a crime or treated as a crime in the 1950,s through the 70,s? As I recall in the south PI, an adult man having sex with a teenage grill and what seem to be consensual was not criminal. When I worked at the Dairy Queen in the late 60's one of my coworkers in her 40's at the time was married at 13 legally with parental consent to a man well into his 20's.

John Nolan said...

I think most of the argument regarding Priebke's funeral stems from the modernist idea (which I have often commented upon and over which I have crossed swords with Pater Ignotus, although my sword is markedly sharper than his) that a Catholic funeral is somehow an endorsement of the life of the deceased. He was a baptized Catholic and not excommunicated and so is entitled to a Requiem Mass, which presumes nothing but prays for his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed. By the way, anti-fascists (which often meant Communists) committed equal if not worse atrocities.

Anon friend said...

I long ago (2001, before the full weight hit the fan, and even more so later) "decided" that rcg, PI, and Henry have it right. I understand fully the truth of what Gene says, but it is a separate issue of apples-and-oranges sin, a fallout as it were.
But whether we "decide" and choose is actually irrelevant in a larger, more eternal sense: our Church is suffering the consequences of the sin of a few--it is a hard but strong lesson in the nature of sin and consequences. Those in ecclesial fraternity and/or authority who indulged in cover-up did and do aid and abet and thus multiply the consequences to the Church.
Father, regarding your last comment, Consider for a moment the sin of abortion back when it was illegal vs now legal. In 1965, it was a reportable civil crime; now it is not so--does that remove consequences? A pregnant female chooses abortion: any family/friends who assist her become complicit in breaking God's law regardless of changes in civil law. Cover-up doesn't ameliorate. A helpless, innocent child is dead. Even if the individuals repent, consequences remain and often multiply (just ask any abortive female and her family!). "But I repented, so it's not fair I have to suffer consequences!" How do we respond...?

rcg said...

John Nolan, I find your logic appealing, certainly because we are all sinners and likely to die with some considerable 'baggage' to reconcile. The key word you used is "Faithful" departed. It seems that Priebke is clearly not faithful.

John Nolan said...

rcg: We are not qualified to judge whether or not someone is repentant. Even suicides are given the benefit of the doubt. One of the saintliest men I have ever met was the late Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC, yet tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children were killed by the Allied saturation bombing of Germany in the Second World War. Cheshire also flew as an observer when the USAAF dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Most of us were not, nor are likely to be, in the position that Priebke was in. Let God judge him; the rest of us can pray for his soul and reflect that in similar circumstances we might not have acted blamelessly.

Pater Ignotus said...

Minimum marriage age varies from state to state. So does the prohibition against marrying cousins or varying degrees of consanguinity.

Currently in Georgia an 18 year old is free to marry. 16 and 17 year olds may marry if both parents/legal guardians approve.

I would be surprised if it was ever legal to have a sexual relationship with a 13 year old, but an historian of the Georgia Code will be able to enlighten us.

But, again, even in the absence of a law making clergy Mandated Reporters, there is a moral obligation to report crimes.

Currently in GA, sexual intercourse with anyone under the age of 16 is considered statutory rape. Neither the gender nor the "willingness" of the minor affects the law. The ages of those involved do impact the criminal "level" of the act - felony, misdemeanor, etc.

rob said...

I presume that none of you have seen Ed Peters' posts about Priebke. Seems that he is not entitled to a Catholic funeral and neither should he receive one, since it appears that he did not repent of his (mortal) sins.

Ed Peters: "I see nothing to debate here. Convicted multi-murderer Erich Priebke meets the definition of “manifest sinner”, he offered no “sign of repentance” before his death (indeed, he seems to have offered quite the opposite), so he must be denied ecclesiastical funeral rites per Canon 1184.

Of course, that won’t stop a lot of distracting commentary over whether Priebke “repented” before he died as if (a) that were relevant to Canon 1184 (it is not, read the canon) and even if it were relevant whether (b) such repentance could be divined by mortal men (it can’t, which is why the law does not address “repentance” it addresses “signs of repentance.”)

One might debate the law itself, of course, but about how the law is to be interpreted, there is nothing to debate."

rob said...

Oh My Gosh! Seems that the SSPX has stepped up to give Priebke a funeral.


George said...

Canon law 1184-1185 say:

Canon 1184 §1. "Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:
1 notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;
2 those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;
3 other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful."

"§2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.

"Canon 1185. Any funeral Mass must also be denied a person who is excluded from ecclesiastical funerals."

Of course there is the application of prudential judgement involved in deciding these matters, taking into consideration specific circumstances.

There have been members of the mafia denied Catholic funerals, for instance.

George said...

John Nolan: You mentioned Hiroshima. Here is a good article on the Atomic bombing of Nagasaki:

The Catholic Holocaust of Nagasaki—“Why, Lord?”

"The epicenter of the blast was the Urakami district, the heart and soul of Catholicism in Japan since the sixteenth century."

"Of the 12,000 Catholics in the Urakami district, 8,500 were killed."

Pater: You touch on another issue.
Abortions have been performed on girls under 16 and there is no follow by authorities to get the person responsible for the pregnancy.

John Nolan said...

Ironically Kyoto was removed from the atomic target list because of its religious associations (Buddhist and Shinto) which led to Nagasaki being 'promoted'. Even so, were it not for cloud cover over Kohura, Nagasaki would have been spared (it had already been heavily bombed).

Gene said...

Are we fixin' to waller in WW II guilt again? Let's not...had they not bombed Pearl, no Japanese cities would have been bombed. They dealt it...too bad.

George said...

No WW II guilt. In fact the above referenced article gives a possible providential reason (albeit not agreeable to everyone) why Nagasaki ended up being the city bombed.
You have to read the article.

Gene said...

Thanks, George. I'll read it.