04 March 2019, The Tablet
Closing Mass of 'The Protection Of Minors In The Church' meeting at the Regia Hall at the Apostolic Palace, Vatican on February 24, 2019
Photo: ABACA/ABACA/PA Images
Along with Fr Joe McDonald, I am also a survivor of clerical sexual abuse and a priest.
Fr McDonald argues that sexual offenders should not be dismissed from the priesthood and he cites “practical”, “theological” and “pastoral” reasons.
I reject those reasons given by Fr McDonald. The penalty of dismissal from the priesthood is entirely fitting and appropriate, for those who are guilty of these egregious crimes.
Practically, because a man has been dismissed from the priesthood, it need not - and should not - necessarily follow that he is unmonitored in relation to safeguarding concerns.
The Church - and, indeed, the law of the land and society in general - is obliged to ensure that a person, who is a danger to the young and vulnerable, is corralled, by every reasonable means, to prevent further harm and endangerment.
Also practically, no truly Christian person would wish to see an offender cast out into the street. They remain entitled to human respect in every sense. But it simply does not follow that they should be allowed to remain in the priesthood.
The theological and pastoral reasons cited by Fr McDonald, for not applying the just penalty of dismissal, are nonsensical. Theologically, for example, the abusers themselves, by their own actions, have so marred and desecrated the image of Christ the priest in their characters, that the damage is irreparable.
Clerical abusers can never again mirror Christ as pastor and priest. The image is shattered, by their own hands, into thousands of pieces.
It is, therefore, truly astonishing to suggest, that those responsible for such a desolating sacrilege, can be allowed to continue to be known and identified, as priests of Jesus Christ. The sheer obscenity of the actions of these men renders such a scenario unthinkable.
The ontological change itself, that occurs at ordination - and to which Fr McDonald makes several references - is rendered meaningless, by the crimes of sexually abusing clerics.
The Word of God clearly teaches that it is possible for a person, who has received the grace of God for a specific purpose, to allow that grace to “count for nothing” (II Corinthians 6:1).
Furthermore, a person ontologically changed by Christ, at Baptism and Confirmation and, yes, in the Sacrament of Marriage also, can, by certain choices and actions lose their very souls.
If the ontological change conferred in the Sacraments - including Holy Orders - does not lead to the salvation of one’s soul and the souls of others - then it is negated - rendered null and void.
Pastorally, Fr McDonald argues further, these men should remain priests because they are our “brothers”. Yes, they are fellow human beings. We should wish them no harm and we should earnestly seek their welfare - spiritual and temporal.
But again, to attempt to invent a “pastoral” reason, for them not to be made fully accountable for their evil behaviour, is bewildering.
There is absolutely no valid pastoral reason, for allowing those who have caused such tragedy to God’s children - and catastrophic ruin to God’s Church - to continue to be identifiable as priests.
Neither has making them accountable anything to do with failing to show “mercy” or “forgiveness” as Fr McDonald tries to imply.
The truly merciful course of action, towards such men, is to face them with the enormity of what they have done and help them, beyond denial, towards sincere repentance.
Even truly forgiving offenders from the heart absolutely does not entail allowing them to remain as priests of Christ’s Church.
Not to dismiss sexual abusers from the clerical state is to make a mockery of the priesthood. It is to render the Church’s theology of the priesthood meaningless and turn pastoral ministry into a hideous parody.
Fr Patrick McCafferty, Corpus Christi Parish, Belfast