This week cyberspace has been buzzing about the Vatican’s memo regarding the CDF’s revised guidelines for handling cases of sexual abuse among the clergy.
Reading this memo, I was came away with a fresh appreciation for the way civil law (which regulates our actions within the temporal order) and moral law (which compels us to regulate our very lives toward the good, loving, and perfect) work together in the Christian life. And again, how moral law and canon (sacramental) law work toward the same end, in ways complementary yet distinct.
When clergy betray the sacrament of holy orders through perversity, “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.” However, this does not — must not — preclude swift justice from the tribunal, to determine the appropriate penalty for their moral and sacramental crimes. Their crimes against the Church, and against the Sacred Heart of Christ, are no less serious than their crimes against their fellow human beings.
To those outside the Church, it is the temporal penalty that matters most — in particular, the restitution due the victim (after legal counsel exacts its pound of flesh, of course). From the perspective of canon law, however, such criminal conduct has both a moral and sacramental implications that are much farther reaching than the span on one man’s lifetime.
Remember the words of Christ regarding Judas, who betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver:
“The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” (Matthew 26:23-24)
And again, what he said to his apostles regarding one who causes a child to stumble:
“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Luke 17:1-2)
The appropriate penalty for such actions can never be exacted through civil or temporal authority, not with all the money in the world. “For what profiteth a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? And what can he give in exchange for his soul?”
In the end, no amount of money can ever make restitution for such crimes against God our Father, who weeps for the wrong done to his children. Only by the blood of Jesus can such wrongdoing be redeemed — the very blood that is trodden underfoot by such blatant disregard for the sacraments.
If the sacraments impart to us the very life of Christ, and if in his ordination the priest becomes alter Christus, “another Christ,” then the man who betrays through his own actions such profound gifts has far more to worry about than a little jail time. “It would have been better if he had never been born.”
Those who serve on the altar must be held to a higher standard than those entrusted into their care. This is a sobering thought for women who are anxious to cast themselves upon the altar, demanding their “right” to serve alongside those whom God has called to ordination. It is no small thing to respond to such a call, even with all the graces God gives to the ordained.
How is it, then, that a woman could propose to do by sheer force of will what Mother Church has said is not in her power to grant? How could you ever imagine for a moment that you could ever be “Groom” when “Bride” is forever imprinted on your body, and in your heart?
Forgive them, Lord. They do not know what they do.