...First, I think we have to always remember that priests are in the business of forgiving sins. It’s a constant in pastoral life, whether in the confessional or not, that people tell you things they’ve done wrong, and reveal their dark sides to you. You learn to suppress your judgement, and always to offer hope and the possibility of a new beginning. If, as a priest, a layman came to me as a sex offender of the most horrible kind, I would swallow my disgust, and try to find some way to help him move forward. It’s part of the job description.
...The second factor that’s important is that priests generally don’t grasp the seriousness of the offense, and the damage it does. We see this in Cardinal Mahony, but it’s not just him. I wish I knew why this was so. It seems to me common sense that assaulting children sexually or otherwise damages them.
...The attitude lingers, largely, because even now most clerics haven’t heard a victim’s story. I was revolted by these things from the first moment I heard of them, but it wasn’t until I dealt with a victim that my reaction became visceral. Abp. Myers probably hasn’t had a real conversation with a victim, or a victim’s parent, and so the damage done is still abstract.
...The third factor is where clericalism comes in. There’s a tendency among priests to hypostasize the priesthood. Being a priest is thought to bestow a certain dignity and grace on a person, and that grace objectively must be safeguarded. The world is objectively better off with more priests than less. So, even if a man is totally corrupt, the idea is that he’s still a priest, and that must be held onto at all costs. I’ve found this attitude myself when I’ve wondered if I can stay part of an organization that, in some areas, has become irredeemably lost. “We have to find a way to preserve your priesthood” was said to me by my superior.It could be argued that the entire sorry history of the sex abuse scandals is rooted in a malformed understanding of mercy. Imagine this: a priest, a trusted member of the community, sexually violates an innocent child. The child's family reports the incident to the cops and to the bishop. The bishop cooperates with the cops and tells the molester priest he's on his own. It's a local scandal and appears only in the local news.
Now let's remember what actually happened: priests sexually abused innocent children. The bishop eventually finds out about it. The priest is sent to do a week's worth of penance in psychiatric counseling. The priest and his psychiatric evaluators swear up and down that he's fit for duty, and then he is reassigned to another unsuspecting parish. He commits the same evil again. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I'm generally not a fan of over-the-wire psychoanalysis but I'm going to break my own rule here as I have met and interacted with many priests and bishops. For even the most whacked out, far left heretical priests and bishops, the institution comes first. In their own twisted way, they love the Church even as they undermine her doctrine and discipline. The average priest and bishop loves Holy Mother Church and it pains them deeply on an emotional and spiritual level when she comes under attack, even if the attacks are fully justified.
The institution comes first. If a scandal can be swept under the rug, it will be so swept. This is not to say that the Church can and ought to air all of her dirty laundry in public. But some crimes cannot be kept under wraps. Sometimes you have to choose between a major scandal today or a catastrophic scandal tomorrow. And our shepherds will almost always choose the latter, hoping against hope that the catastrophic scandal will never come to light. They feel bad for the victims of course - I'm certain Cardinal Mahony felt and feels bad for all of the children abused by priests under his rule - but in the long run they think it's better that one person should suffer now than hundreds or thousands being scandalized.
As the priest correspondent said, priests are in the business of forgiving sins. No one is irredeemable so long as they draw breath. Here's where many priests and bishops got tripped up: sins may be forgiven but the temporal consequences remain. A serial killer may be truly repentant and do his time, possibly give up his own life on the executioner's block, and we may be certain that God will forgive him. The families of his victims may forgive him in time. But that forgiveness does not undo his crimes. It will not bring back those he killed.
Forgiveness may include forgiving the temporal consequences, but not necessarily so. True repentance requires a willingness to endure the temporal consequences of one's sins. If you are guilty of theft, you have to return your stolen goods. If you are guilty of adultery, you have to break up with your mistress. Our Blessed Lord told the woman caught in adultery, "Go and sin no more," not "Go and hook up with that chick's husband again."
The priesthood is a fraternity, and in a real sense priests are a band of brothers. What many of them failed to learn in seminary is that the fraternity of the priesthood is supposed to protect the Eucharist, not bad priests. The Church does a lot of good social work, but all of it is meaningless if it does not flow from a love of our Lord in the Eucharist. The Church exists to confect the sacraments and to sanctify people. Priests would do well to remember the latter. Non-Catholics are not entirely off base when they caricature the Church as a "sacrament factory" where nobody cares about the moral and spiritual life so long as the institution keeps humming. I've attended several parishes that fit that stereotype to a tee. Gentlemen, the institution does matter. I'm not saying it doesn't. But if you put the institution before doing the right thing, then you won't have much of an institution left to defend.