Friday, February 22, 2019

Justice? Or Vengeance? The Two Are Not the Same

Some comments about the summit are closer to this than to the obligations of the Church

Sadly, many of our people, not just those abused or parents of the abused, but the faithful at large are wondering if we the leaders of the Church fully understand this reality, particularly when they see little care given to abused children, or even worse, when it is covered up to protect the abuser or the institution. They are asking themselves, “If church leaders could act with so little care in giving pastoral attention in such obvious cases of a child being sexually molested, does that not reveal how detached they are from us as parents who treasure our children as the light of our lives? Can we really expect our leaders to care about us and our children in the ordinary circumstances of life, if they responded so callously in cases that would alarm any reasonable person?” This is the source of the growing mistrust in our leadership, not to mention the outrage of our people.

—Cardinal CupichFeb 22 2019.

Cardinal Cupich raised a good point at the Summit in Rome. If bishops didn’t give justice to the victims of abuse and their families, how are they to trust the bishops to guide them in the faith. It’s a question that cannot be dismissed. The fact is some bishops were given the task of providing justice in the face of a vile evil and, for whatever reason, failed to provide that justice and allowed the predators get away with a horrific crime. The faithful need justice and they need to be able to know this will never happen again. This is a legitimate demand.

Unfortunately, intermingled with the demand for justice, is the demand for vengeance and scapegoats. These people are not saying “Bishop X was informed of this case of abuse and did nothing to protect children from future abuse.” They’re saying “All the bishops must have known. Therefore they’re all guilty and need to be laicized.” This is not a legitimate demand. In some cases it seems to reach the point of accusing Popes and bishops, without evidence, based on their ideological views... as if only people on the “other side” can be guilty.

Justice can be defined as acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good, giving what is due. Vengeance, on the other hand, can be defined as retaliation for an injury or offense. The problem is, vengeance often focuses on retaliation without concern for whether the punishment is just. But even when the Church failed to be just in the past, that doesn’t allow the faithful to demand retaliation that is unjust.

I think of this as we see the response by some to the 21 points issued on the first day of the Summit. Two of them received a lot of hostility:

14. The right to defence: the principle of natural and canon law of presumption of innocence must also be safeguarded until the guilt of the accused is proven. Therefore, it is necessary to prevent the lists of the accused being published, even by the dioceses, before the preliminary investigation and the definitive condemnation.

15.  Observe the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed. To decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave the public ministry.

These are principles recognized in most free nations: You’re presumed innocent until proven guilty and if you’re guilty, the punishment must be proportional to the crime. Now Cardinal Cupich, as cited above, rightly pointed out that the victims and families have a right to be concerned about whether the bishops will fail to provide justice based on past results. People who don’t trust the bishops after discovering all the cases that were not disclosed will no doubt fear that this is more of the same.

But even so, we cannot respond to an injustice to the victims with injustice to the accused. So any reforms to the system cannot violate these principles to make it easier to punish. Even though there are a number of credible cases out there, we cannot assume all cases are true without proof. Some accusations may be false, and if it is, allowing that priest to be treated like a criminal would be unjust.

Moreover, we need to recognize there’s a difference between a bishop who knowingly concealed a case of abuse and a bishop who sincerely followed the advice of the recognized experts of the time, believing that the abuser priest was cured and able to return to ministry. Justice requires they be handed differently. We have to be careful that our horror and disgust do not lead us to forget our obligations as Christians. As painful as it feels when dealing with this evil, we do have Our Lord’s command: 

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

[Matthew 5:43–48 (NABRE)]

That doesn’t mean “be a doormat,” giving the evildoers a free pass. But it means we cannot be unjust or hateful to those who wronged us. We’re called to administer justice in a way that seeks their salvation, even when we’re tempted to consign them to hell. I’m not saying that this will be easy. We should not have to suffer injustice at the hands of the shepherds of the Church. But, since the Church is a Church of sinful humans, not angels, injustice will happen. So, responding in a Christian manner is necessary.

So what do we do? I think we need to pray for the Pope and bishops involved. If we’re troubled by a proposal, perhaps we should be praying, “Lord, if this is unjust, give them the wisdom to see it. And if I am mistaken, please give me the wisdom to see it.” If we are angry, perhaps we should pray, Lord, if my anger is wrathful, give me the strength to let go.” Ultimately, we are praying both for the Summit to do God’s will and for us to do God’s will if we are mistaken.

If we don’t do that, we risk acting from vengeance, not justice. And that will be acting against God’s will.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds reasonable to me. But I'm in the happy position of not having a reason - or motive - for feeling like the Pope, along with all cardinals, bishops and priests, should be boiled in oil. Or assuming that whatever's wrong must be some sort of vast conspiracy.

    It's not all bad news, though. I've yet to run across allegations that the abuse mess is the work of space-alien shape-shifting lizard men who have infiltrated the Illuminati. ;)