The Great Prostration; Count Me In

In an impromptu, and very beautiful homily, Pope Benedict XVI last week brought up the issue of penance:

Penance is grace; it is a grace that we recognize our sin, it is a grace that we know we need renewal, change, a transformation of our being. Penance, being able to do penance, is the gift of grace. And I must say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word penance, it has seemed too harsh to us. Now, under the attacks of the world that speak to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is grace. And we see that it is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life, open ourselves to forgiveness, prepare ourselves for forgiveness, allow ourselves to be transformed.

Benedict had a good deal more to say in his excellent homily, which should be read in its entirety, but let’s look at what has developed from this.

Deacon Greg Kandra shares an email he received from a fellow deacon, Deacon Charles Rohrbacher of Alaska:

One repeated criticism of them has been that even in their apologies, [the bishops] have resembled corporate executives rather than pastors. In a real sense, they have not yet responded, either as a body or as individual bishops in a Catholic enough way. All the more remarkable because of our rich tradition of public penance and outward signs of repentance and contrition, but unfortunately, to date, very few of our bishops have entered the public practice of our Catholic penitential tradition.

The Holy Father in the past couple of days has called us as a Church to penance, which is good and appropriate up to a point (because we are all part of the Body of Christ) but misdirected, I think, because the faithful were not responsible for the decisions that caused so much harm to victims and scandal. It is the bishops themselves who need to seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of those who were harmed because of their failure to protect the most vulnerable members of their flock from abusive priests and to implore God’s mercy on behalf those clerics who molested children and young people (most of whom are unrepentant and evade all responsibility for their crimes).

So here is my question for you. What if our bishops chose to do public penance? What if they lay prostrate or knelt in front of their cathedrals as penitents before each Mass on the weekend closest to the feast of St.Peter and Paul or on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or some other appropriate day or days? Or, even better, on the first Friday of every month for the next year starting with the feast of the Sacred Heart or Sts.Peter and Paul? And what if we, as their deacons, as an order in the Church, in all humility, not only called on our bishops to do public penance, but offered to join them in it?

As deacons we invite God’s holy people to pray for mercy in the Penitential Rite. As deacons we call God’s priestly people to pray for the needs of the Church and world at every Mass. As deacons on Good Friday, it is our part to invite our bishop and priests and all the faithful to kneel in prayer.

Just as I think it is our part to call our bishops to do public penance, I think it is also our part to join them in penance as well. Clearly, our place is with our bishops: we stand at the side of our bishop during every celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments, ready to assist them. We lie next to them every Good Friday as we prostrate our selves before the mystery of the Lord’s death on the cross. And I think that if we, as deacons, are willing to stand (or kneel or prostrate ourselves) at the side of our bishops, they might say yes to doing public penance.

Deacon Rohrbacher may be on to something, here. The visual impact of priests, bishops, deacons and seminarians all lying prostrate, begging forgiveness and doing penance could be very powerful.

Victims of sexual abuse are people who have been reduced to mere “things;” who have been made to feel like their being, their personhood, their God-created spirits are as inconsequential as dirt. They blame themselves for their molestation, and feel “dirty.” Many work up the courage to tell their stories only to have their truths denied, or hidden, or denounced as “lies” and “mean-ness.” When that happens, it is like being molested once more. It leaves one feeling utterly crushed, like glass that has been not only shattered, but then ground into powder, by the heel of a shoe.

I write from experience. When you are sexually abused, the world cracks and falls apart. Confronting your abuser, and being “heard” is when healing may finally begin, and pages can finally be turned.

I think it would make a deep and resonant answer to the victims, if they could see see their clerics -not on their knees, weeping and beating the breast, which is too much like theatre- but flat on the ground, at dirt-level and vulnerable – which is precisely the place where a victim resides.

The act of prostrating oneself before the community, before the church, may not seem like much to some, but it will say to the victims: you have been heard. You have told the truth. You have been sinned against, and we beg your forgiveness. We are decreased; you are increased. We are lowered; you are raised.

What I know of people who have survived sexual abuse is this: they rarely want to see the whole-sale destruction of the abuser. What they want is to know that the agonizing interior screams that they have lived with have been heard and understood. They want to know that others will never have to suffer as they have.

This idea of Deacon Rohrbacher’s can be a powerful affirmation that the victims need, but a concern could arise that an ongoing, weekly demonstration of penance can either become rote or theatrical. It would not be a helpful or useful thing to see a priest or bishop prostrate themselves in the “we’ve done this before, let’s get it over with” manner that sometimes infuses the Holy Mass.

Instead, perhaps what we should be looking for is something world-wide and simultaneous. These abuses have occurred throughout the church, throughout the world. In that light, perhaps the church needs to perform a “Great Prostration” throughout the world; a moment where the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, all priests, all deacons, all religious (male and female) and those members of the laity who wish to, all gather at their churches and prostrate themselves, as one body, in acknowledgment of sin, and in reparation.

The visual image, and the silence, would speak volumes to the victims, and to the whole world. Perhaps while prostrate, the Litany of Saints should be chanted, asking the prayers of the holy men and women who have gone before, for the good of the victims and the whole church. Or perhaps the Litany of Humility could be prayed. And an Act of Contrition, prayed, together.

This would be an enormous act of humiliation, and the vast participation would underscore both the enormity of the sin, and the scope of the repentance.

Deacon Rohrbacher expresses concern that the penance belongs only to the clergy, that Pope Benedict’s apparent call for a “collective” penance is misplaced. Others have expressed a similar concern, and they are not wrong. But they are perhaps being too constricted in their thinking.

We are one body. We are called to do penance for our own sins, of course, but we are also encouraged to offer up penances for others who either cannot or will not do it for themselves. This is a notion we have gotten away from in recent decades, but the simple (and theologically sound) idea of “offering up” small deprivations and mortifications for our own sins “and the sins of others” was not always so problematic. Doing such penance unifies and foments peace, for it reminds us that we are all broken, faulty and sinful, and that all sin -from venial to grave- harms the Body of Christ, and humanity.

And of course, we have the example of Jesus Christ, himself -the all good, and wholly innocent- who suffered and suffers for the sins of others. Jesus Christ, stumbling with his heavy cross, knew face-down, dirt-breathing prostration, done on behalf of the sins of others.

As a lay person, I would participate in this prostration, with my pope, my bishops and priests and all the rest. I would participate as a means of communicating to the victims that I have heard them and that I am united to them, angry for them and ashamed on their behalf, and also to express to the whole world that I too am a sinner, in need of mercy. I would prostrate myself as to express unity with the clergy and religious, that they are no more outside of redemption than the rest of us, that they are valued and their healing is as necessary to the Body of Christ as is the healing of the victims.

My participation would also demonstrate my intention to remain within this injured body, contributing to both its weakness and its strengths, because I know my redeemer lives, and that we all shall rise again.

Time is a construct. We know that all things are happening, at every moment. The crucifixion of Christ is happening today, as is his resurrection. The parting of the Red Sea is happening at this moment. Also happening at this moment are a billion sins against the vulnerable. The church needs to insert a cleansing and reparative “moment” into this vast collection of ever-unfolding and eternal events.

The Great Prostration could be that moment.

Arising from the dirt, the entire Body of Christ can finally begin to heal.

The fullness of healing, of course, can only come when the victims finally feel capable of saying “I forgive you…” That moment -which cannot be compelled and does not mean forgetting- is the moment when a victim takes his life back. When a victim says, “I forgive you,” she confers her own power over the entire situation, and controls it. It is transformative; it brings a victim into his or her Royal Priesthood.

Forgiveness, I have learned, is essential to healing; without it one is held in a stagnant pool of misery. Forgiving is how you reclaim yourself and move on. Until you can forgive, the incident -whatever it is- owns you.

This will not answer for everyone. Those seeking material or tangible redress will still want that. Practicalities will still have to be answered, and for some, this moment would be dismissed as mere “theatrics.” But at least there will be a calling out of “olly-olly oxen free” and the great hiding will end, and all will be gathered together, in the light. An environment for forgiveness will have been established.

In his impromptu sermon, Benedict said:

Christ, the archegos, saves us by giving us the light, giving us the truth, giving us the love of God . . . The suffering of penance, of purification, of transformation, this suffering is grace, because it is renewal, it is the work of Divine Mercy . . . metanoia is the arrival of the grace that transforms us.

The Great Prostration could be a moment of metanoia, or at least a place to start. We know that all things work to the glory of God, whose mind is not our mind, and whose ways are not our ways. It might be a perfect and powerful way to close The Year of the Priest.

All of this may well be leading to moment of grace for many people. A public penance may not endear the church to those who already hate her -and undoubtedly there will be cries of “not enough” (and a prostration, alone, cannot be)- but this could be a starting point for those who are estranged. And it may even provide the grace-filled moment that encourages others, wholly disconnected from any church, to reflect on their own lives, their broken relationships, the harm they have known or have sown.

Perhaps this is an idea worth praying over.

The effect of sin ripples out of our control, touching others in ways we cannot imagine. The effect of grace does the same. Perhaps the whole world is in dire need of a moment of grace.

Count him in too!

Pope speaks of his meeting with victims
George Weigel writes An Open Letter to Hans Kung
The Work of Penance
Publisher of National Catholic Register
apologizes for Fr. Maciel
Publisher of the NY Times (or Editors, anyway) reject letter from law professor describing their actions.

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Susan Hagen

    All of these gestures are both theatrical and pointless. What they need to do is in the nature of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process. EVERY bishop, cardinal and the pope need to search their memories and files and make a full, public declaration of how they were complicit in covering up the abuse. Files should be opened to the civil authorities, bishops need to bare their necks to the lawsuits brought by victims. Those who covered up the crimes of predators should resign or be removed from their positions. People like Bernard Law, Sodano, the Irish bishops named in the inquiry, other flagrantly guilty bishops should be invited to withdraw to a monastery to live a life of penance. Nothing less is going to be a satisfactory response.

  • http://!!!! kelleybee

    I’m ready. Give me the time and the place, and I will gladly participate in the Great Prostration. God have mercy on us.

  • Bill from Fairfax

    You wrote, “Time is a construct. We know that all things are happening, at every moment. The crucifixion of Christ is happening today, as is his resurrection. The parting of the Red Sea is happening at this moment. Also happening at this moment are a billion sins against the vulnerable. The church needs to insert add a cleansing and reparative “moment” into this vast collection of ever-unfolding and eternal events.”

    You are on to something here, beloved Anchoress! I have not stopped thinking about your “vision” since you shared it with us, and I think that it is going to have a profound effect on my view of grace and forgiveness and hope. Thank you.

  • Bender

    misdirected, I think, because the faithful were not responsible for the decisions that caused so much harm to victims and scandal. It is the bishops themselves who need to seek God’s forgiveness

    And what of the “faithful” who are causing scandal by their repeated attacks on the bishops and the Pope, and those causing scandal by slandering the bishops and Pope by suggesting that it is only they who need repent? What of deacons from Alaska who have picked up rocks and have a forest of trees in their eyes while thinking that it is the place of a deacon to “invite” the bishops to do anything, thus presuming themselves to be above the bishops?

    The fact is, rather than this GIMMICK, which is exactly what it is, priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes already prostrate themselves, as they did recently on Good Friday. They also confess at every Mass that they have sinned, through their own fault, by what they have done, and what they have failed to do. EVERY MASS.

    Let us not be so quick to dismiss the fact that the Church is in almost all of her prayers in the position of a penitent, confessing our sins and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness and grace. The Church, including the Pope, bishops, and priests, have repented. Repeatedly. That some people continue to be deaf and blind to such repentence is their problem, not the problem of the Church.

    Rather than gimmicks, why don’t we — all of us — put down the flagellum and rocks?

  • sam

    You used to have an email to a friend option…is that still available? I’d like to send this to some friends for their prayers on it…I love the idea…I have a family member who was abused and think this may be very beneficial for them and for our family as a whole as well as the Church.

    [I think I lost that option when I moved to FT. But you can just cut and paste the url into an email! :-) -admin]

  • http://none M Conway

    “Victims of sexual abuse are people who have been reduced to mere “things;” who have been made to feel like their being, their personhood, their God-created spirits are as inconsequential as dirt. They blame themselves for their molestation, and feel “dirty.” Many work up the courage to tell their stories only to have their truths denied, or hidden, or denounced as “lies” and “mean-ness.” When that happens, it is like being molested once more. It leaves one feeling utterly crushed, like glass that has been not only shattered, but then ground into powder, by the heel of a shoe.

    I write from experience. When you are sexually abused, the world cracks and falls apart. Confronting your abuser, and being “heard” is when healing may finally begin, and pages can finally be turned.”

    What drivel. These statements are from a 1950′s-60′s psychology class coupled with creative writing.
    Most of the “molested” were not forceably raped, of whom I will exclude from my statement, and do share the guilt of what happened to them. Most could have avoided the situation that resulted in the repeated molestations and could have reported the molestations at any time. They chose not to stop the molestations and chose of their own free will to go back for more. They are active participants, mostly involving fondling and not rape. Any boy over the age of 12 knows what he is doing. I also speak from first hand knowledge as a former, molested, 12 year old, 55 years ago.
    They may feel dirty but never like ground up powered glass. They stop the molestations when they decide to end them. They can report them the next day, but most wait 10 to 50 years when they decide to join with a contingent lawyer and make their accusations for a big payout. I prefer to put it out of my mind as youthful indescretion, a forgive sin through confession, and I blame no one but myself. I wouldn’t sue anyone, I just stay away from those who would take advantage. I have no psychological problems from the experiences or anything else. It is called personal responsibility. Get over it.

    [An astonishing comment, presuming to tell others what did or did not happen to them and how whether their reactions at being molested by an authority figure were valid or whatever. I am so glad for you, that you have no psychological problems from "putting it out of your mind" as "youthful indiscretion." I am not sure I understand how a priest molesting you is YOUR indiscretion, or why you confessed it and blamed "no one but yourself" but I will assume you know what you are about. It would be good if you could be charitable enough to allow others to know what they are about, too. -admin]

  • newguy40

    I first saw the article on Fr Z’s place and I have to say as a lay person count me in.

    Some see gimmicks and others see theatricals.
    I see an opprotunity and grace.

    Sorry, I don’t have the writing and communications skills that many of the posters here possess. So, I don’t think I can explain it…

  • newguy40

    I remember now…

    I am dismayed at anyone referring to a sacrament (penance) as a gimmick or theatrics. Is holy communion also a gimmick of theatric?

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  • craig

    Bender, I don’t see how “inviting” the bishops to do something equates to presuming oneself above the bishops. Many of the saints are lauded because they criticized wayward popes and challenged them to holiness; how could this be, if it were sinful to do so?

    Look, I get the penitential rite, even though priests around here generally skip it except during Lent. The point is, repentance is more than just saying “I’m sorry” over and over, as anyone who has ever scolded a child has had to explain. They need to show how they understand that (a) they have to fix what they broke, and (b) they shouldn’t even think about dessert for a while.

  • cathyf

    Ok, I said it before, and I’ll say it again — I am very uncomfortable with the idea of penance which is not tied to specific recognition of specific sins. There is this very chic vagueness about it all: I sin, you sin, we all sin — in other words, nobody sins, or, yeah we all sin, it’s no big deal.

    Those of us who avail ourselves of the sacrament of confession know that there is a searing starkness about it. The penitential rite of the mass is great as far as it goes (“what I have done and what I have failed to do” said blended in with the crowd) but it is an order of magnitude away from “I did precisely this thing” and “I failed to do precisely that other thing” said in your one small voice where you know that God and the priest are listening to you.

    I’ve been the resident conspiracy theorist who has questioned the timing of the NYT (rescued from going out of business last year by friend-of-the-Legionaries Carlos Slim) just happening to go on the attack the exact weeks that the pope is deciding whether the Legion should be dismantled or will survive. The form of the attack was all about lumping all of the sinners together. Sodano, the previous secretary of state, took fat envelopes of cash to protect Maciel; Bertone, the current secretary of state, told the Wisconsin bishops that it was basically impossible to prove 24-year-old charges without a long drawn-out legal proceeding unless the accused confessed. Conclusion: they are both sinners, both equally guilty. Cardinal Law moved Goeghan and Shanley from place to place after each report of abuse (and there were hundreds), so now a bishop who has been in a place for a year who is hearing a never-before-hinted-at accusation from decades ago against a priest never before accused of anything is guilty of cover ups, too.

    There is a difference between thinking that you are doing the right thing and being wrong; knowing that you are doing wrong and doing it anyway; and not caring whether you are doing the right or wrong thing. A central characteristic of The Scandal has been to conflate together all sorts of different types of cases into the single category of “sexual abuse” with, of course, every case being just the same as whatever the most heinous example. So when a priest admits that he is guilty that is exactly the same as priests who strenuously proclaimed their innocence and there was no evidence at all other than the accuser’s claims which violated the laws of space-time. Or (true story; my parents’ former pastor) a priest who is a recovering alcoholic, has not had a drink in several decades, who has a single accusation from when he was actively drinking. The accusation is that he hugged a girl and she had to wriggle away from him. He claims that he has no defense because he does not remember any such thing happening. He was suspended from the priesthood based upon the zero tolerance policy. Or the “sexual talk” category — everyone knows that the John Jay study defined “sex abuse” as everything ranging from rape to “sexual talk”, right? When I saw that, my “lies, damn lies and statistics” alarm started ringing — how many of the acts being counted there were crimes, and how many were merely “obnoxious” or “inappropriate”? A bishop who reports to authorities that a priest hugged someone for 5 seconds too long is going to get laughed out of the prosecutors office. Or take the case where a bishop sincerely believed that an accusation against a priest was false, but paid a settlement and got the priest out of there on the theory that unless you can be absolutely sure it is better to treat a con man as a victim than a victim as a con artist. That is a far cry from “the bishop moved the guy around even though he knew he was a pervert.”

    Last week, on the celibacy thread, I thought that Mary and Ben-David got right to the heart of what bothers me about this:

    April 13th, 2010 | 4:34 pm | #43

    Mary nails it:
    Some people can justify their own sexual activity if they persuade themselves that it is impossible to refrain. People who can refrain, therefore, threaten to blow the whole thing sky-high, by revealing that no, they didn’t need to engage in that activity.
    - – – – – – – – – –

    This is part of the Gramscian attack on free will. It comes from the same camp that is desperately trying to convince people to model their intimate lives on their simian ancestors.

    So the articles about how “men are genetically disposed to infidelity” and “women are genetically disposed to seek out alpha males” and “homosexuals are born that way”.

    All designed to undercut the notion of free will.

    The notion that there should be zero tolerance for sex abusers can be based upon either of two bases. The first is completely pragmatic: sexual abuse of minors is a special class of crime committed exclusively by sociopaths. In other words, a man who is sexually attracted to minors has no free will and so cannot stop himself. So when a bishop had a priest who confessed, seemed genuinely repentant, and promised up and down never to do such a thing again, the bishop should have known that this was impossible. And if the bishop gave him a new assignment this was not merely reckless risk-taking, it was making himself an accessory to the priest’s next crime because of the certainty not the risk that there would be another crime. One of the things that is interesting about this latest variation on scandal-mongering is that these new cases are providing counterexamples to that. For example, in the Wisconsin case, the priest was removed from his position and “exiled” to his mother’s vacation cabin in another diocese. Ok, a priori this was a reckless disregard for the possibility that he would abuse again, but in fact it appears that he did not abuse anyone else. Or the case last week from Nashville — according to Bishop Stika the priest at some point realized that what he was doing was wrong and he stopped.

    The second basis for a zero tolerance policy is that sexual abuse of minors is a particular sin which cannot be forgiven. And if the Church teaches that Christ died and rose for the redemption of sexual predators along with all of the rest of us sinners, this is a vicious lie told for no other reason than to further assault the victims. I’ve heard enough really unhinged attacks against the Church that really come down to this — people utterly appalled that the Church might treat someone who has committed such a crime as a beloved child of God. And that right there is probably my biggest objection to the whole public penance idea. The central core of our Christian belief is Christ’s victory over sin, and to “repent” of believing in the possibility of redemption for anyone (including sexual predators) is apostasy.

    [So, Cathy, you're saying that God will not forgive some sins, no matter how contrite the sinner? I have heard people say this about abortion, too, that no matter how contrite a woman is, after her abortion, God cannot forgive her. That's sort of ascribing our own feelings to God, isn't it? Perhaps "we" individually cannot bring ourselves to forgive others, but to suggest that there is a contrite soul who can go unforgiven by God? Is that what you are saying? I am only trying to understand, not to criticize. -admin]

  • barb

    Yes! I’m in agreement….

  • cedc

    This is an excellent idea. It must be done with as little hoopla as possible (No promoting, no advertising, minimal media coverage). Of course, there would be those who think this is a publicity stunt- and those who will never forgive. We leave that to their conscience. What’s most important is the depth and sincerity of these prayers in each person’s heart. I’m confident this event will: 1) spread love and compassion from the entire Church to those who have been affected by clergy sexual abuse, 2) help purify and renew the Church, and 3) help the Church go forward into the future to continue the work God wants us to do.

  • Manny L.

    Count me as another uncomfortable with it. It does look like a show. It also looks like Muslim prayer prostration. We as Catholics have a process of penance. We don’t need to put on a show. We need to establish the correct rules for how the Church needs to handle crimes committed by priests, implement the rules, and be faithful to them. And of course confess to the crimes of the past and call it done and over. This public prostration is silly. It amounts to horsewhipping and belittling all Catholics.

    Now that I’ve written that, I’m more than uncomfortable with it; I’m against it.

  • Annie

    Count me in too. No, I have never abused anyone or covered it up. Still, I have some atoning to do. I think of the time I refused to believe that a priest whom I admired since childhood could have committed offenses (years earlier) against a neighborhood kid. I was convinced the boy lied…I was wrong. Another time a priest whom I considered too theologically progressive was accused of abuse. That time I was willing to accept that it might be true because I really disliked him personally…he was innocent. Whether we’ve spread rumors and gossip, or even told heartless jokes about priests or victims…we have added to someone’s suffering.
    I need to be more humble…It would be my joy to participate in this penance.

  • cathyf

    So, Cathy, you’re saying that God will not forgive some sins, no matter how contrite the sinner?

    Sheesh, I’m an utter failure as a writer… What I was trying to say is that the idea that some sins are unforgivable is utterly in opposition to Christianity. I have seen non-Christians who are outraged and scandalized that priests who have abused minors have received absolution in the sacrament of confession, and demand that the Catholic Church must immediately cease this horrific crime.

    Those claiming to be victims of clerical sexual abuse (and their contingency-fee lawyers) have collected $3 billion from the Catholic Church. *Shrug* it’s only money. Now some are demanding that we give up our belief that Christ died to redeem all sinners, even those guilty of this terrible sin. THAT demand is beyond the pale.

  • AMDG

    I have resisted posting here out of fear of muddying the waters but I can no longer hold myself back.

    A few thoughts as it relates to the issue of sexual abuse in the Church.

    1. The number of abusers are statistically small but this means little to one who has been abused. I understand defending the overwhelming majority of priests through the use of statistics but it can seem to be both lacking in compassion and, worse, admitting that there will likely be a certain (very small) number of predator priests in the same way even a Six Sigma manufacturer will inevitably still have defective products. This is not an argument I would use first or often.

    2. There has been malfeasance within the Church as it relates to how offending priests were investigated and punished. These cases need to be thoroughly reviewed and criminal punishment applied where proven in a court of law. I understand the frustration with tort abuse and the fact that many plaintiffs and contingency lawyers are attempting to benefit (or worse, extort) financially but it is not as if none of these cases has merit. Vigorous defense of the unjustly accused and swift settlement with the truly wronged seems the best course here.

    3. The Church needs to put in place stringent rules to ensure this can never happen again and to make these policies a matter of public record. I doubt anyone could argue that the previous process suffered from too much transparency.

    4. I think institutional penance is a good idea to the degree to which it speaks to specific sins and also, and it is unfortunate to have to write this but there you have it, does not weaken the Church’s legal defense of priests. For the Vatican to say “we ask for forgiveness on behalf of those who sinned against God, their fellow man, and their solemn vows and those who enabled those sins” would be a good idea. Reconciliation and penance are part and parcel of our faith.

    5. Although everyone is entitled to their own opinion, one isn’t entitled to one’s own facts. Half-truths, lies, and distortions must be refuted forcefully. Those with an anti-Catholic bias cannot be allowed to frame the story but simply labeling someone anti-Catholic because that person is reporting on this crisis within the Church is disingenuous.

    6. It is going to take time for some of these wounds to mend and that is to be expected.

    7. Practicing Catholics are all members of the Church Militant and should be praying for our Church to be healed from this wound. I think Pope Benedict XVI has been extraordinarily candid in his public discussions of this scandal and while rightly condemning the sins of men still defending the majesty of the Church.

    I feel I am beginning to ramble and appreciate the patience of those who read this whole thing, a penance in itself!

  • Greta

    I think this public pennance could be a good thing for everyone involved in abuse.

    Is there greater abuse than killing a child? I think it would be good to have all the Catholic democrats that hold office and are involved in keeping the murder of infants legal and even funded do some form of pennance. I think it would be good to have catholics who vote for democrats knowing that the party is the party of death should come forward and acknowledge that thier actions have caused the death of more than 50 million babies. If one compares the two crimes, it is hard to imagine that some who support the party of death and have their hands red with the blood of 50 million dead babies would have the guts to call out to those who abuse children that they need to do pennance. As one who has never supported the abuse of children, who did not support putting homosexuals in the priesthood with their grave disorder, did not support the cover up of any child, and has never voted for the party of death since Roe, I think all of you that have sinned in this way need to prostrate yourselves in the church, at home, and in the halls of congress and seek Gods forgiveness. Now excuse me while I prostrate myself and plead for forgiveness for what I have done and failed to do, what I have said and failed to say. Yes, it is a sin to not speak out when babies are being butchered by the millions while yelling for pennance from those who did not even abuse as with the Holy Father.

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  • Theresa in Alberta

    TOTALY agree!!! as a good friend to a person who was sexualy abused your description of the feelings of the victim is right on!!!!!
    where do me and my arthritic knees go to participate in the act of penance for our fellow brother and sisters??

  • annamae

    This show is worthless without something to back it up, like getting rid of all of the offending priests and the bishops who covered for them. The church needs to grow a backbone and act for a change.

  • Maria

    A beautiful idea and one which I truly wish would really happen. Potential for great grace. I think this would move many hearts. Prostration out of true contrition and in humility would speak volumes.

  • Faith On The High Wire

    I like what you said about those who are abused typically not wanting to see the “wholesale destruction” of their abuser. I know that there is a gaping wound in all those poor souls that have been sexually abused, but they don’t necessarily become sociopaths as a result.

    Absolutely, we must remedy this situation with a cool head, a firm resolve and a tremendous trust in the Church established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit.

  • AvantiBev

    No I am not going to prostrate myself and confess to being party to sexual abuse or its cover up. If those who participated in these grave sins wish to do so, fine but as a COMPULSORY act forced upon all practicing Catholics; no way!

    Reminds me of JPII apologizing for the “excesses” of the Crusades. Know your enemy. THAT enemy saw it as a further sign of Western weakness and 2980 of my countrymen paid with their lives on a beautiful September morn.

    In other words, be careful no matter how pure your inward intention, your outward actions may be mistaken by those who wish you and the Church no good.

    [Which is why I wrote, "those members of the laity who WISH to participate..." -admin]

  • JuliB

    To address one concern of Cathyf’s….

    If it makes anyone feel better, why not do penance specifically for the clergy and laity who are unrepentant? And do so without pride or disdain? That might even be an act of charity as well as an act of penance.

    It’s a pity that we as Catholics need to be told to do this.

  • JenniferL33

    I read Fr Z’s blog and was deeply touched by the humility of it all. Then I see the same thing on your blog and all I can say is “Absolutely! Name the time and place.” There will always be detractors, but that should not paralyze us into not doing something that would be an absolute good.

  • Magistra Bona

    The whole Church participated in the enabling of priest pedophiles by not listening to the harmed, by wrongly assuming that priests are gods, and also–and I think worst of all–abdicating their 24/7 obligation to watch over their children no matter who they’re with. Abuse often happened to children who were left with priests by parents who welcomed or needed the time off. They dropped the ball, and are often sorry for it. All should prostrate–not just the bishops.

  • Maureen

    Re: not Catholic?

    Actually, it used to be that Catholics did all sorts of collective penitent acts, without in any way diminishing Confession or other Sacraments.

    Obviously, Lent and Advent. Ten+ weeks of penitence for everybody — a tithe of the year. Also, obviously, every Friday was a day of penitence. Some people threw in Saturday and Wednesday, as the early Christians did and the Eastern rites’ folks still do.

    Then, every three months, three days of fasting and prayer marked out the Ember Days. More penitence.

    There were also all sorts of public processions; and while many were celebratory, others were penitent in nature. Any time stuff was going wrong in Nature, the politicians were acting like idiots, somebody did something really bad, or it just seemed like a good time for a revival, the bishop or the parish priest or the abbot was apt to call for special works of penitence or processions through the street. Ordinary people were also prone to asking if they could pretty please go on a bread and water regime for the sins of the world, as well as their own sins.

    Most pilgrimages were at least partly penitent in purpose. Some were much more so (Lough Derg’s barefoot days and nights without sleep or food, going up the Spanish Steps on your knees).

    The truth of the matter is that asceticism and public penitence makes us suburban Americans feel very uncomfortable. Certainly there’s not many of us who’ve ever seen penitent acts, except on TV with pilgrims at Guadelupe, or to the extent of saying Rosaries or chaplets in private for reparation of the world’s sins. So there’s not much danger of it being “theatrical” when it’s not done at all.

    Speaking as an adult who has tried walking a mere mile while barefoot, mostly downhill on smooth grass or sidewalk, I have to say that doing penitent stuff is NOT FUN, and that any smug ideas about it go away after about 300 yards. But it helped. So logically, if you believe in the Body of Christ actually connecting all Christians, it would also help the whole situation if a lot of us did it.


    As I replied on Father Zs similar blog, we lay catholics are also guilty, of omission, we didn’t pray for them!
    Count me in. As with the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, this will be done rather late.

  • Maria Key

    I think in general it is a good idea, but not limited to priest and clergy. Frankly, I’m sick of ALL the blame being put on them when the laity are IMO more to blame for the sexual sins of our times when looked at it in terms of the economy of grace. We have sinned and failed in this regard HUGELY. Think about how many sins committed by a large percentage of the laity including: rape, adultry, fornication, contraception, abortion, immodest and suggestive behavior, immodest and suggest dress, etc. Which one of us have not sinned in one of these ways? What did that contribute, in a spiritual (but no less real) way to poluting the spiritual climate of our times?

    If a “great prostration” or other collective active penance is done we must all be in it together, as the one body which we are.

  • paige

    I have been reading you forever but I don’t think I ever commented.

    The comment you made about the ripple affects of sin and grace struck a cord because I had been meditating on exactly that for a few weeks.

    For quite a while I was throwing an interior fit about all the Catholic rules that I don’t like to follow… the ones that seem to be pretty harmless to break.
    Then someone somewhere referred to ripple affects and I had an image of my sin making an impact I would never see.

    That really shook me up and was the first step out of the pity party I was stuck in.

    I also wanted to add that my experiences growing up gave me a negative opinion of men. I had the impression that they were all very arrogant. I had a boyfriend who took me to Church with him and I saw the priest doing a Benediction at the end of Adoration. He was on his knees…very reverential. It touched me deeply to see someone so humble.
    Your pictures of the prostrated priests reminded me of that.

  • TeaPot562

    If our bishop or someone in our diocese names a day, as a responsible layman who admits I haven’t prayed enough for our ordained clergy, I’ll attend and participate.

  • Brandy Miller

    @ M Conway:
    I was a child victim of sexual abuse. The abuser was my stepfather. I was four, and the abuse ended when my mother was told for the second time (the first time having been when I was six) at age 9. I did not have any means of defending myself against my attacker. What he did to me left me so shattered and broken that I still find areas that are in need of healing some 25 years later. You may have been complicit in the act, but do not presume that it is so with every victim of sexual abuse. You judge others with your own yardstick. While you may have had a choice, I can tell you there are others who did not and you have no right to speak for them.

  • WChase

    I think it is a great idea, not the end of this by any means, but a potential act of faith that healing is possible – that Bishops indeed want healing. It can begin by their asking for forgiveness in this very public way. No one is obligated to give it to them, of course, but that is the point in a way – that the victims have the their right to say ‘no’ to an RC authority about this matter restored if they so choose. They may say ‘no’ over and over, but maybe that will help them develop the decisive strength they need to live with their pain… and maybe forgiveness will come for some.

  • P. Buchta

    Bender I agree. Rock throwing does no good and Jesus was totally against it. We all live in our own glass house as He so aptly put.

  • Bender

    It can begin by their asking for forgiveness in this very public way. No one is obligated to give it to them, of course

    “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.”

    I’m sorry WChase, but this is wrong, very wrong.

    Number one, you say “it can begin . . .” This is misleading, in that it implies that such has not already begun, it has not already been done. It has. Many times. Many, many times. It began years and years ago.

    Which is (partly) why this current call for asking for repentence is so beside the point. Years from now, after those in the Church have yet again repented of this and asked for forgiveness, there are still going to be those who bring up the abuse scandals and say that healing “can begin by their asking for forgiveness in this very public way,” totally ignoring what has gone before.

    If people didn’t bother to pay attention the last multiple times that this was done, they aren’t going to pay attention this time.

    Number two — you say “no one is obligated to give [forgiveness] to them, of course . . .” Actually, WE ARE obligated to forgive.

    True, you do have the free will to refuse to do so, that is to say, you have the free will to reject the call of Jesus to forgive those who have done wrong, but the fact of that free will does not detract from our obligation — my obligation, your obligation, everyone’s obligation (yes, even including the actual abuse victims) to forgive.

    The God of Divine Mercy calls us to forgive. Not once, not twice, but every time.

    It is time to stop saying “no” to Him.

    It may be hard, it may be near impossible, and you may not want to, but if you cannot find it in yourself to forgive, then ask God for the grace to do so. THAT is our obligation too.

  • cathyf

    If anything, this comment thread is a microcosm of why this is a bad idea. “This would be wonderful because it would show that the Church believes X!” “This would be wonderful because it would show the Church believes Y!” “This would be terrible because it would show that the Church believes A!” “This would be terrible because it would show the Church believes B!” When X is the opposite of Y and A is the opposite of B.

    The problem is that the Church is currently surrounded by a furious campaign to misrepresent Catholic teachings and beliefs and actual history and events. This sort of gesture is quite ambiguous, and every single solitary critic and supporter of the Church will interpret it as the Church agreeing with each of their individual positions. Even when the Church’s actual beliefs are completely the opposite. The Church has a central mission of teaching and evangelization, and allowing the riotous witch-hunting hysterical mob to put their words in the Church’s mouth is not helpful.

    (Of course that’s not to say that the Church is doing anything like an acceptable job teaching and evangelizing through this. They seem to be completely reactive, responding to demands, not taking any kind of control in framing the argument. The Great Prostration idea probably isn’t much worse than all of the rest of their mistakes…)

  • Fr Ronan Kilgannon

    I offer this rather sober reminder to those who consider that only priests and bishops need to do penance for this sin. The highest incidence of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church happens in family homes like theirs and not presbyteries like mine. Just check the Government statistics if you are in doubt about this. I am waiting for the Pope to meet not just those who were abused by clergy, but also those abused within their own Catholic family. He is after all the spiritual father of all who were abused, and not just some.

  • Chris

    Prayer and fasting.

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