In a blunt lecture on Monday at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin made what to my mind is a stunning admission about the sexual abuse crisis in the church: With perhaps "two exceptions" he has "not encountered a real and unconditional admission of guilt and responsibility on the part of priest offenders" in his diocese. That is, the abusive priests in his diocese, with only a few exceptions, do not seem remorseful.
A few years ago I participated in a panel discussion at a New York City teaching hospital, with several psychologists and psychiatrists, on the abuse crisis. (I was more or less the token Catholic priest, asked to speak to the crisis not from a psychological but an ecclesial point of view.) One psychologist offered a riveting presentation in which he stated that the two most common attributes of an abuser are narcissism and grandiosity. The narcissist, as he explained it, does not see the other person's needs as at all important; only he (or she) needs to be gratified, and only his (or her) needs matter. The grandiose person, in these cases, is often the "Pied Piper" around whom gather many children and whom parents feel comfortable leaving their child with. I remembered the psychologist's observations when I read Archbishop Martin's lecture. Apparently, the narcissistic traits impinge on remorse as well.
Statistics are too often offender-focussed. We have to set out from the standpoint that the person who was at the epicentre of abuse was not the priest, but the victim, a child. A restorative justice approach would have to re-orient the way we draw up not just our statistics but our pastoral care. One victim constantly reminds me that the stern words of Jesus in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 18:6) about the “great millstone” to be fastened around the neck of anyone who becomes a stumbling block for the “little ones”, are quickly followed (Mt 18:12) by the teaching on the Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who has been lost.
This victim reminds me that it is the lost child, the molested child who should be at the centre of our attention. The Church should be actively seeking out victims to embrace them with the healing power of Jesus Christ. Certainly so many victims are left with the impression that they are being “dealt with” rather than being sought after and reached out to with priority care. Victims rarely feel that they are been given priority over the ninety-nine.
What was documented in the Murphy Report is horrendous. The Archdiocese of Dublin got it spectacularly wrong. All I found I could say on the publication of the Report was that the Archdiocese of Dublin got it spectacularly wrong; spectacularly wrong “full stop”, not spectacularly wrong “but”. That decision of mine was, I was told, “a catastrophic media strategy”.
Let me come back to restorative justice. Is there room with those who have sexually abused children to apply a system of justice which rather than simply punishing the offender, attempts to allow the offender to be part of the process of restoration and healing? What is my experience?
Restorative justice has shown striking results in many areas. But restorative justice is not cheap justice. It is not justice without recognition of wrong-doing, without putting the balance right. Restorative justice may possibly even be about forgiveness, but again not about cheap forgiveness
In the case of serial sexual offenders restorative justice is not about restoration to ministry. There can be admission of guilt on the part of the offender and even expression of forgiveness on the part of a victim, but the Bishop has to establish a balance between the need to rehabilitate offenders and the duty to protect children. The bishop or religious superior has a fundamental responsibility to protect children and the most vulnerable in society. We should not overlook the fact that the very words of Jesus regarding those who harm children are among his harshest and least conciliatory.
Without wishing to be unduly harsh, I feel that I can honestly say that with perhaps two exceptions I have not encountered a real and unconditional admission of guilt and responsibility on the part of priest offenders in my diocese. Survivors have repeatedly told me that one of the greatest insults and hurts they have experienced is to see the lack of real remorse on the part of offenders even when they plead guilty in court. It is very hard to speak of meaningful forgiveness of an offender when the offender refuses to recognise the facts and the full significance of the facts.