What if the pedophile priest had abused you? What if he had abused your son? What if your son afterwards went downhill, started using drugs and ended up on the trash heap and attempted suicide? It happened to a family I know.
Would you be able to forgive that man? I doubt if I could.
Can he find forgiveness in the church? Can he be reconciled? Can he return to Mass? Can he ever function as a priest again?
I ask this question because the pedophile priest is the pariah of our age. He is the worst of the worst. He is the one who our society deems the greatest horror, the sickest wretch and the most despicable sinner.
This is therefore the test of Christ’s forgiveness and the test of those who follow Christ. Can we forgive the pedophile priest? Should we forgive the pedophile priest?
Of course we can, and of course we should. And this is where the real risk of radical discipleship kicks in.
Would anyone in their right mind risk embracing, forgiving and befriending a pedophile priest?
Society says they are to be shunned. Society says to forgive them is to condone what they’ve done. The secularists would howl that the Catholic Church, by forgiving a pedophile priest is saying what he has done doesn’t matter.
Perhaps it is in this radical act of forgiveness that the stunning reality of what forgiveness is supposed to mean and do might radiate out from the practice of the Catholic faith.
The vast majority of people think “forgiveness” is no more than being non judgmental. They think forgiveness means being tolerant and letting everyone do what they like. They think forgiveness is a soft and sweet bit of sentimentality in which people are excused for little slip ups because “We’re all human after all…”
But Jesus Christ reached out to the worst of the worst. He scandalized society by mixing with the thieves, prostitutes and adulterers.
But what if Pope Francis–in addition to visiting victims of priestly sex abuse were also to visit a pedophile priest in prison who was truly repentant? What if he undertood that sort of gesture and said to the howling self righteous world–
“Let me show you the true mercy of Christ the Lord. Do you not understand that his heart breaks for the children abused by this man you call a monster, but that his sacred heart also breaks at the sick misery of a man that this priest has become? Do you not understand that the mercy of Christ is endless and that he calls not the righteous but the sinner to repentance? Let me show you the mercy of Christ….he reaches down to rescue the perishing, He is not willing that any—no not one–should perish without forgiveness. Do you not see the severe and tender mercy of the Lord who comes to seek and to save that which is lost? Do you not see that he can forgive and embrace even this sad, sick man whose soul is deformed and his heart so wounded by sin? Do you not see that the Lord Christ reaches out to save even the worst specimen of humanity?”
And if he can rescue such a soul do you not realize that you too might receive his mercy?