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Tom Ferrick Jr. |
Real Reparation Must Dig Deeper
By Tom Ferrick Jr. - Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist
Sunday, October 9, 2005
The cardinal is sorry. Only this time he is really, really sorry.
Thus reads the new missive from Cardinal Justin Rigali to Roman Catholic
faithful about the priest sex-abuse scandal in Philadelphia.
Writing from Rome, where he is attending a Vatican synod, the cardinal
issued his second pastoral letter in recent weeks on the topic. The new
letter has a more contrite tone than his first one, issued the day a Philadelphia
grand jury presented its report on the abuse scandal.
In the first letter, Rigali apologized to the victims while rejecting
the grand jury's finding that there was a cover-up by the archdiocese.
At the same time, archdiocesan lawyers lambasted the report as vile, biased
That good-cop/bad-cop routine offended most Catholics, who let their
parish priests and church officials know it.
Hence, this new letter from Rigali, dated Oct. 4, which turns up the
contrition dial considerably.
The cardinal writes: "Our Archdiocese has been humbled by sins and
failings which have scarred the lives of many young people and have deeply
pained and scandalized the faithful."
He goes on to "seek renewed forgiveness for the evil committed by
these priests as well as for harm resulting from mistakes and errors of
judgment made in the handling of these matters by anyone in administration."
This is reparation?
Finally, he declares this "a time for reparation and renewal."
"Reparation," the cardinal writes, "acknowledges that
evil has been committed. ..."
Renewal means that we must renew our "commitment to greater holiness
and integrity of life, which involves absolute respect for others and
observance of all God's commandments."
Therefore, the cardinal declares, he is directing every parish in the
archdiocese to celebrate a holy hour each week, in the presence of the
Blessed Sacrament, where we can pray for reparation and renewal.
So much for the verbatim quotes; let's move to the exegesis.
The tone is certainly somber, but is the cardinal saying anything that
is much different from before? He now says "mistakes and errors of
judgment" were made by higher-ups. The grand jury had a different
tag for it: a cover-up that involved hiding cases and shuffling offenders
from assignment to assignment.
He calls for reparations, but he seems to consider prayers as reparations
- a sort of spiritual "I'm sorry" bouquet. My dictionary defines
reparations as "something done or given as amends or satisfaction;
the payment of damages."
I am not one to belittle the power of prayer, nor the calling of holy
But something more concrete is needed if the archdiocese really wants
to expiate its sins or, if you prefer, its "mistakes and errors of
Here are three ideas:
One. The archdiocese could announce public support for the changes in
law urged by the grand jury, especially the one that calls for a longer
statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases. None of the 63 priests
identified in the report as known abusers could be indicted because of
the current, limited statute.
Two. It could waive its immunity from civil suits from victims that it
enjoys because of the similar statutes of limitations and enter into negotiations
over monetary reparations. I should mention here that the Boston Archdiocese
did exactly that to answer its own priest-abuse scandal.
Three. A suggestion advanced by the Rev. Paul Morrissey, an Augustinian
priest stationed at St. Augustine Church: creation of a truth and reconciliation
commission, along the lines of the one created in post-apartheid South
Africa to publicly air this issue. Offender priests could testify, victims
could testify, so could members of the hierarchy. The commission would
have the power to offer reparations.
One final thing: Just because we are the cardinal's flock doesn't mean
we have to be sheep.
Pray if you will, but also demand action from the church.
Contact columnist Tom Ferrick at 215-854-2714 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ferrick.