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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Penance-shifting?

The bishops of England and Wales are asking Catholics to carry out acts of penance each Friday in May to help atone for clerical abuse crimes.
- English, Welsh bishops ask Catholics to do penance to atone for abuse

[W]e Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word ‘repentance,’ which seems too harsh ... Now under the attacks of the world, which speaks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to repent is a grace, and we see how it is necessary to repent ...
- Pope Urges Repentance in Homily

David Gibson has raised a question in a recent post at dotCommonweal and also mentions a Huffington Post article by Fr. James Martin SJ on the same subject. First, here's a bit from David's post ....

I’d like to ask for feedback about penance, in particular the communal aspect of penance, which is frequently cited by the pope and bishops as regards the sexual abuse scandal .... Questions: How does this work? That is, what are we doing penance for, and who are we doing penance for? And can we do penance for those who have not recognized their sins? Or is it penance for ways in which we ourselves failed? And does this lack of specificity tend to gloss over the actual sins and the individuals responsible? Yes, I think of the pope and the hierarchy, who can issue such calls — but they smack of submerging larger questions of personal responsibility in calls for communal penance. And does communal penance also connote a form of general absolution (uh-oh) down the line?

And here's part of Fr. Martin's article ....

[...] Occasionally bishops will invite all Catholics in their diocese to commit themselves to a general period of communal penance in "reparation" for the sins of sexual abuse by clergy. Pope Benedict's recent pastoral letter to the Irish church mentions this. In addition to proscribing penances for the clergy and members of religious orders, the pope exhorts "the faithful" to offer their "Friday penances" for one year.

On the one hand, the idea of the whole people acting together, as one, is theologically sound. One of the central images of the church is the "Body of Christ." The church, unified as a body, rejoices and suffers together. Thus the crime of sexual abuse tears at the body of the entire church. But this theological approach, when applied in this case, is misdirected, even offensive. Why should the Catholic "faithful" (the laity) repent for anything? They were not the guilty ones. It would be as if a penitent entered the confessional, confessed his sins, sought absolution, and said, "Could you give the penance to someone else?"



5 Comments:

Anonymous Henry said...

Crystal,

Very interesting articles and comments. It seems to me that everyone keeps linking penance to law rather than to charity, as it should be. An explanation to follow on the weekend. I hope you are having a good day today.

Pax,

Henry

11:42 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Henry,

I look forward to your further comments. I think they were concerned about the idea of all of us doing penance for the wrongs only certain people had committed?

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Hi Crystal,

I agree with what you wrote and I understand why they are saying what's being said; but I sense that there's something missing but I can't quite put my finger on it yet and so that intuition is like a pebble rolling around in my mind.

I have to pray and meditate.

Pax,

Henry

1:30 PM  
Blogger Mike L said...

I am back, dead tired and it will take me at least a week to recover from vacation. But something struck me the other morning while reading morning prayers.

Like many I have been saying why should I do penance for something someone else did? And it hit me that Christ certainly did penance for my sins, why should I not be asked to do penance for for the sins someone else committed. Am I not supposed to be like Christ, to imitate Him as best I can?

And I also think about how many of the saints did penance to get souls out of purgatory or even to redeem a sinner. As much as I dislike paying someone's bill, Christ certainly picked up my tab, should I not do the same for others?

I tell you, something has warped my mind :).

Hugs,

Mike L

7:07 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mika,

You're back! Where did you guys go this time?

I guess I don't accept the idea first that Jesus died for our sins (can I actually admit that and not get excommunicated?). I think he died because he was actiung in a way that got him murdered, a way that disturbed people in power, and he just had to be himself and speak the truth despite the danger.

Praying for prople in purgatory - I've never really understood this. How does a person have a change of heart and become a better person by having someone else pray for them?

8:06 PM  

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