The M+G+R Foundation


A Spiritual Remedy For the Damage Done to the Roman Catholic Church by the Sexual Abuse Scandal

Proposed by the Preacher to Benedict XVI's Household

Refuted In These Pages



A Guest Document by Lee Penn


INTRODUCTION


On December 15, Fr. Cantalamessa (the preacher to Benedict XVI’s household) proposed a Church-wide day of penance for the clerical sex abuse scandal. Mr. Lee Penn has prepared, at our request, a comprehensive commentary addressing Rev. Cantalamessa's spiritual remedy to "...
the abominations committed in her womb by some of her own ministers and shepherds."


Although the comprehensive commentary is essentially what Mr. Penn submitted to us, miguel de Portugal, echoes his evaluation and recommendations.


DETAILS


NOTE: The format used will the be quoting Cantalamessa and Townhall.com texts in italics followed by a commentary from Mr. Penn.  The Links to the full text of Cantalamessa’s sermon as well as the story at Townhall.com may be found at the end of this Document.

 

Quote, from the Townhall.com story:

 

“Pope Benedict XVI’s personal priest asked the pontiff on Friday to declare a day of fasting and penance to express the Roman Catholic Church’s solidarity with the victims of clerical sex abuse.  In a strongly worded lecture, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa denounced the ‘abominations’ committed inside the church ‘by its own ministers and pastors’ and declared that the church has ‘paid a high price for this.’  ‘The moment has come, after the emergency, to do the most important thing of all: to cry before God,’ said Cantalamessa, in a pre-Christmas talk delivered in a Vatican chapel. The pope was in the audience.    Cantalamessa suggested that the church ‘indicate a day of fasting and penance, at local and national level, where the problem was particularly strong, to publicly express repentance before God and solidarity with the victims’.”

 

In his sermon, Cantalamessa said:

 

“The Church has ‘wept and sighed’ in recent times for the abominations committed in her womb by some of her own ministers and shepherds. She has paid a high price for this. She has sought to repair the damage. Strict rules have been laid down so that these abuses do not happen again. The moment has come, after the emergency, to do that which is the most important: to weep before God, to do penance, as God himself has been abused; to do penance for the offense against the body of Christ and the scandalizing of the ‘least of his brothers,’ more than for the damage and dishonor that has been brought upon us.”

 

Nevertheless, Cardinal Bernard Law remains in his cushy Roman retirement post as Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major – and he still has the honors of the Episcopacy and the Cardinalship.  Other bishops and cardinals continue the Scandal coverup and the worldly efforts at damage control.  Priestly perpetrators continue to evade justice, in the US and worldwide.  We are not in a time “after the emergency;” contrary to Fr. Cantalamessa, the Scandal continues. 

 

Cantalamessa added:

 

“One day when I was preaching to the clergy of a diocese that suffered much because of these things, I was struck by a thought. These brothers of ours have been stripped of everything, ministry, honor, freedom, and only God knows with what effective moral responsibility in individual cases; they have become the last, the rejected.… If in this situation, touched by grace, they do penance for the evil caused, they unite their weeping to that of the Church, then the blessedness of those who mourn and weep could become their blessedness. They could be close to Christ who is the friend of the last, more than others, me included, rich with their own respectability and perhaps led, like the Pharisees, to judge those who make mistakes.   There is something, however, that these brothers must absolutely avoid doing but which some, unfortunately, are attempting to do: profiting from the clamor to take advantage even of their own guilt, giving interviews, writing memoirs, in an attempt to put the guilt on their superiors and the ecclesial community. This would reveal a truly dangerous hardness of heart.”

 

The preacher to Benedict XVI thus shows how far we are from the end of the Scandal.  Some of the perpetrators have been caught – but many have not.  Many abusers have evaded jail because Church authorities stonewalled release of documents until statutes of limitations had run out.  The actions of the abusers are not “mistakes;” they are grave crimes.   And while Cantalamessa rightly warns the abusers not to profit financially from their own crimes by “writing memoirs,” he seems also to be warning them not to blow the whistle on “their superiors and the ecclesial community.”  In his sermon, Cantalamessa says next to nothing about the bishops and cardinals who magnified this evil by covering for the abusers.  If this shows what the leadership of the Vatican has learned since the American scandal broke forth in early 2002, then Cantalamessa shows that they are still in denial about the extent and depth of the evil in the Church.

 

Advocates for abuse survivors have replied that words and gestures can go only so far; action must accompany words of contrition. 

 

Quote, from the Townhall.com story:

 

“‘Decisive action protects kids, not nice gestures,’ Barbara Blaine, national president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement. ‘We’d much rather the pope discipline complicit bishops instead, because that’s what is just, appropriate and effective’.  Blaine alleged that hundreds of bishops have covered up thousands of sex crimes.  Mary Pat Fox, president of Voice of the Faithful, a lay U.S. Catholic reform group created in response to the molestation scandal, said the comments were a hopeful sign that Vatican leaders were beginning to understand the depth of the crisis. However, Fox said church officials should go further by punishing bishops who sheltered guilty clergy.”


I agree fully with what the leaders of the Survivors Network and Voice of the Faithful said in this case.

 

Words of penance mean little without amendment of life and reparation.   As the Apostle James said,

 

“...a man is justified by works and not by faith alone...” (James 2:24)

 

As God told the people of ancient Israel through the Prophet Amos,

 

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them … take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.  But let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  (Amos 5:21-24)

 

God told the people of ancient Judah through the Prophet Isaiah,

 

“Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  …  When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”  (Isaiah 1:13-17)  



Only with deeds of justice will the words of penance be made effective.

 


RECOMMENDED ACTION


For the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to repent of their part in the Scandal, they have to back their words with deeds.  Ideas for such deeds, actions that would “correct oppression” and “defend the fatherless,” come to mind:

1. Send Cardinal Law away from his Roman basilica, and back to a monastery to live in penance and humble service.
 
2. Take away his red hat, and degrade him from the episcopacy.

3. Do the same to all cardinals and bishops whose malfeasance abetted the clerical pederasts and molesters.

4. Direct, with all the disciplinary powers available to the Pope, the bishops and heads of religious orders, that fugitive molester religious and priests turn themselves in to civil authorities.

5. Suppress religious orders where pederasty (and other forms of molestation and abuse) are rife.
 
6. Suppress seminaries where the same conditions prevail.

7. Give a canonical trial to Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ.  If he’s found guilty, state that verdict publicly – with the reasons for the judgment – and impose canonical penalties on him, so that the Legionaries cannot claim (as they do now) that their founder is innocent but persecuted.[1]

8. Formally investigate all “new ecclesial movements” – including Opus Dei – for  sexual and emotional and physical abuse, recognizing that insular cults often foster such aberrations. 

9. Release the names of all clergy and religious who are guilty of molestation and abuse.  Name the dead perpetrators, too.  Name all the bishops and cardinals,living and dead, who knowingly shuffled perpetrators from assignment to assignment.  Name all those who are guilty, regardless of civil or canonical statutes of limitation. 

The victims of abuse are serving life sentences of shame, despair, and distrust as a result of the treason of the clerics; publicly naming the guilty will assist them in recovery.  No longer will any one of them think that they were the  only victim of Father Pervert; no longer will their associates accuse them of “making it all up.”

10. Dioceses and religious orders should move on their own to settle civil suits, and to release victims from confidentiality agreements that stifle the victims’ ability to speak openly of what happened to them.

11. Dioceses and religious orders should stop using egregious legal defenses, such as claiming that the victims or their families were at fault for allowing the abuse to occur.  Just because certain defense tactics are lawful does not mean that they ought to be used – especially by an organization that claims to be the Body of Christ on Earth.  In all cases, the church bodies and the hierarchs – not just the lawyers and insurance companies – are responsible for what they do in   court.
 
12. Dioceses and religious orders should stop lobbying against legal reforms – such as extending statutes of limitations and mandatory reporting of abuse to civilauthorities – that would protect the innocent from victimization.

13. Investigate the manner of life of clergy and religious worldwide, with attention to reports of homosexual networks in the Western countries, and to reports of widespread heterosexual concubinage in the Third World.  Allowing married clergy is one thing; it could be done without any change in Church dogma.  But when the Hierarchy winks at widespread, long-term, covert sexual partnerships by its supposedly-celibate clergy, it becomes party to massive hypocrisy, and to the potential for abuse and neglect by the clergy of their clandestine spouses and offspring.  Furthermore, clergy and religious enmeshed in secret
partnerships are in no position to blow the whistle upon the pederasts and other abusers among their colleagues.

 

I could expand this list, but the above 13 steps would, if taken, represent real amendment of life on the part of the Hierarchy.  The guilty would receive temporal demotion, hardship, or other punishment – and by patiently accepting such punishment, they would be offering reparation for their sins and making it possible for themselves to receive God’s mercy.  None of the foregoing steps would change an iota of Catholic doctrine or dogma ... they would, however, weaken the Corporation’s worldly structure and reduce its wealth. 

 

I believe that none of the above actions will occur in the present age, barring a miracle.  These deeds, which would be “fruit that befits repentance” (Matthew 3:8), are unlikely – so Fr. Cantalamessa’s suggested gesture of penance will probably prove to be empty.  Therefore, the doom pronounced by John the Baptist upon the Pharisees and Sadducees [“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”Matthew 3:10]  may well come upon the Hierarchy, its apologists, and unrepentant clerical perpetrators.

 


IN CONCLUSION

Nevertheless, there is some value to Fr. Cantalamessa’s proposal.  I can see how and why the faithful can and should offer penitential prayer and reparation for the molesters and cover-up artists.  Our prayers on their behalf will help them to repent and be saved.  Christians pray for sinners and for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and the graces that result from our prayers will be applied by God wherever they are most beneficial, as God sees it.  The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and just as the evils of the Scandal hurt the body as a whole, penitential and intercessory prayers from the faithful can heal the body as a whole.

 

Aside from our own prayers of reparation, the faithful can do several other things to bring about a just resolution to the sex abuse scandal – and we can do them, whatever the Hierarchy does or fails to do:

 

1.     When possible, offer time, talent, treasure, and prayer on behalf of groups that support abuse survivors, such as SNAP, Linkup, Bishop Accountability, and others.

2.      When the Hierarchy’s apologists blame the attorneys, the media, liberal legislators, and other scapegoats for the Scandal and its evil effects, do not heed their propaganda, and do not join their lobbying efforts.

3.      When a victim accuses a priest, do not automatically assume that the alleged victim is a liar, and do not automatically assume that Fr. Fondle – who is such a nice, charming man, and so good with the kids – is innocent.  Reserve judgment, and let the investigators prove or refute the allegations.

4.      Accept that, if the full extent of clerical abuse is exposed and if all the perpetrators are removed from ministry, there will be consequences for all the laity.  There will indeed be a great shortage of priests and religious.  Many parishes and schools will close.  Much will have to be paid to victims, their attorneys, and to the civil authorities.  The secular influence of the Catholic Church will decline further.  Such are the inevitable results of having unchecked corruption of the Hierarchy, priests, and religious over decades.  Just as the guilty clerics should patiently accept their own punishments, so we the faithful should also patiently accept the radical downsizing of the Church’s earthly structures, to satisfy the requirements of justice for the victims and the fulfillment of the Will of God.

 

Lee Penn



[1] Two stories showing that the Legionaries remain in denial about the deeds of their founder, Fr. Maciel:

First: “Jim Fair, the U.S. spokesman for the Legion of Christ …  has absolutely no doubt that Father Maciel is innocent of accusations that he sexually abused seminarians decades ago. Any statements to the contrary, he said, amount to persecution of a holy man – the kind of persecution Jesus referred to in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, "Blessed are those who hate and persecute you for holiness' sake; you shall see God.” (Michelle Martin, “Legionaries stay on task despite penance of its charismatic founder,” Our Sunday Visitor, July 12, 2006, http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=20487).

Second: “Despite the increasingly public and mounting evidence against the Legion of Christ’s founder, the Legion of Christ continues to claim that Fr. Maciel is completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever, while continuing to claim to be “obedient” to the Holy See.” (Brian Mershon, “Someone Is Lying . . .But Is It The 100 Alleged Abuse Victims Or Fr. Maciel?,” The Wanderer, August 10, 2006, http://thewandererpress.com/a8-10-2006.htm).



The Link to the whole text of Cantalamessa’s sermon.

The sermon is summarized in a story at Townhall.com


Related Recommended Reading from The M+G+R Foundation

The Psychosomatic Consequences of Sexual Abuse by Drs. Dominguez, Nelke and Perry - Child Trauma Academy, Houston, TX

The World Has Been Amply Warned

What Can We Do - Part 1

What Can We Do - Part 2


Published on December 22, 2006
Copyright 2006 by The M+G+R Foundation. All rights reserved.

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