Editorial - The New York Times
Acts of Contrition
Published: February 28, 2011
One can scarcely imagine the pain borne into St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin last month at a Mass — “A Liturgy of Lament and Repentance” — offered for the victims of sexually abusive priests.
It was a reminder that the scandal, a global catastrophe for the Roman Catholic Church and a national tragedy in Ireland, is also a universe of individual tragedies. But there was also hope that some church leaders, at least, are facing up to that pain and that catastrophe. The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, and Cardinal Séan O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, presided over the Mass, which went to unusual lengths to involve victims and to gaze unflinchingly at their suffering.
With 400 people in attendance, lectors read long passages from official reports on decades of abuse in Irish parishes and schools — horrific reading for a sacred space. A few victims interrupted the proceedings with their own stories of shame and terror.
Just as unusual, even startling, was the way the archbishop and cardinal made personal the church’s act of contrition. They lay prostrate in silence before a bare altar. They washed and dried the feet of eight abuse victims — just as the Catholic clergy do at Mass on Holy Thursday to recall how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, a gesture of humility and service.
Archbishop Martin offered what may be the most specific apology yet, showing an understanding — rare among his peers — of the difference between lip service and true repentance. “When I say ‘sorry,’ ” the archbishop said, “I am in charge. When I ask forgiveness, however, I am no longer in charge. I am in the hands of the others. Only you can forgive me; only God can forgive me.”
Not all survivors of abuse will likely accept the apology. They are right that the church has a long way to go to cleaning house and repairing trust with its flock. Reforms are lagging, many victims are still waiting for compensation and a full accounting of crimes. Some predator priests are still in ministry. Bishops have largely avoided punishment or credible repentance.
Still, gestures and ritual can be meaningful, and forgiveness has to begin somewhere, which is why the Dublin Mass seemed to be a true step forward. “We want to be part of a church that puts survivors, the victims of abuse, first,” Cardinal O’Malley said, getting it right.
And for that Sunday, anyway, the victims took precedence. “What the hell did I do wrong as a child?” asked a man, Robert Dempsey, who told of being abused in a mental institution. “What the hell did any of us do?”
President and Founder of The Jewish Board of Advocates for Children - JBAC - Elliot Pasik Esq. writes:
The umos ha'olam not only get kind words, but the Church also, without compulsion of law, provides free therapy for the victims. The Church is now also in strict compliance with all American background check and mandatory reporting laws.
The Jews, in May 2009, receive a tongue lashing from Rosh Aguda Rabbi Perlow who, at the annual Aguda dinner says: Only gedolim can divine what is good for the Jews, not well-meaning baal ha'battim, nor presumptous bloggers and picketers.
Their Executive Vice President, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Esq., echoed the same theme when he told the NY Times, in October 2009: I hope the Brooklyn DA isn't making a power grab from the rabbis, by prosecuting orthodox Jewish sex abusers.
Last night, on PBS, Channel 13, there was a riveting documentary about the March 25, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 people died, mostly young Jewish women. About half were teens. The fire started from a dropped cigarette. The two rich factory owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, had locked all the doors, and there was overcrowding. The owners escaped the fire by scampering to the roof, and crossing to an adjacent building. Nobody told the workers. The owners were acquitted of manslaughter, and collected the insurance money. The NYS Legislature responded with 32 new laws, covering worker safety, child labor, and fire equipment. The fire department ladders reached only to the 6th floor, not to the 8th floor.
The academic commentators at the end of the documentary said that the fire produced a sea change on how people felt they should be governed. Pre-fire, people believed that the factories and workers were a private relationship only. Post-fire, there was a consensus that worker safety was subject to public policy.
So 32 new laws got passed!