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Religious Abuses: Anger, Then … Redemption?

First, sadness.

Then, anger.

Only afterward does rational assessment occur over the Erie-based news story that named a deceased bishop, numerous priests and some non-ordained Catholics in the Diocese of Erie who have been “credibly accused” of improper conduct with respect to sexual abuse.

Not all are accused of sexual abuse itself. Some are censured because, in effect, they looked the other way. The list stretches back through seven decades and includes the names of deceased people, 21 priests and two lay people.

Those deceased folks are obviously not here to defend themselves. As of now, no responses/rebuttals have become known from the 11 living people on the list.

So for Catholics in the diocese, and for non-Catholics who interact with that church in education, social programming and the like, it behooves us to apply to this specifically non-criminal disclosure the same fundamental principles that have guided American jurisprudence since the dawn of the Republic.

¯ Accusation does not constitute proof.

¯ Accused persons are entitled to a presumption of innocence until verdicts are reached.

¯ Even if the accusations are accurate, our country and our community believe in penalties that are limited in scope and proportional to the offenses. We don’t “lock them up and throw away the key,” for criminal conduct or for non-criminal violations of community standards.

I commend the Erie Diocese for taking this step that reflects a long overdue change from past “nothing to see here” attempts at concealment. And let’s recognize the anguish that had to have accompanied that decision to publicly censure colleagues and friends.

OK. That is said, and subscribed to. That is rational assessment.

Back to sadness and anger.

Sadness and anger surely flow from the people who were abused or claim to have been abused, from their family members and friends — and from many among the rest of us.

I am not among the victims of these instances of sexual abuse. As I have noted previously, I was sexually abused as a child. I have closed that book for myself by now, but each time a story like this surfaces, I vicariously experience the hurt and guilt once more, as, I am sure, many other readers also do.

Accusations of this sort involve more than just the reprehensible conduct that happens when one ordinary citizen molests another ordinary citizen. Religious leaders are akin to teachers, police officers, doctors, lawyers, etc. They are our “leading citizens.” We expect them to reflect the highest standards of our ideals.

Sadly, religious commitment or ordination does not confer immunity from sinfulness. As many saints have told us themselves, the terms “saint” and “sinner’ can be synonyms.

Public censure is one form of punishment. Public acknowledgement to victims of wrongs done to them is one form of repentance. The Scriptures do not tell us that Jesus approved of the conduct of the woman caught in adultery. But those Scriptures do tell us that, once adjudged, Jesus limited the censure.

“Go, and sin no more.”

In words like those are found the healing to which all of us, sinners and victims alike, aspire: Disclosure, decisions, repentance — forgiveness.

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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net

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