Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CP198 Two unforgiveable sins?

CP 198 Two unforgiveable sins?

The Federal Government here in Australia has announced a Royal Commission into abuse crimes by people working with children. Calls for a Royal Commission became a clamour and rose to a crescendo. Terrible things happened to too many children who were in the care of representatives of religious and secular organisations. One of those organisations is the Roman Catholic Church. Its leader, Cardinal George Pell, has consequently been much in the news. He has become possibly the most vilified figure in Australian public life. Within and without the Church there is opposition, criticism and condemnation which veers toward mockery and loathing.

All abuse of children is horrible. Sexual abuse is ghastly, and the consequences for the victims are devastating and, invariably, lifelong. The next few years will no doubt reveal an ugly and hugely uncomfortable underbelly of Australian life. More than a few Roman Catholic clergy will rightly be called to account through this judicial investigation. The Church itself will be in the dock. As the head of the Roman Church in Australia, Cardinal Pell will therefore be under relentless and unwelcome scrutiny. He is under enormous pressure, and this will increase as the calls for ruthless accountability hammer home.

How all of this unfolds remains to be seen. One thing is certain. On behalf of the Church, the Cardinal will defend the sacredness of the ‘seal of the confessional’. It is Canon Law in the Roman Catholic Church that a priest may never, ever, reveal what was confessed to him. Cardinal Pell will be required to uphold this stance in the face of many calls for change, even by many Catholic political leaders.

What I have just written is background for an almost unnoticed slip of the tongue by Cardinal Pell. Surely it was a slip. It must have been a slip. At least I hope it was a slip. The Cardinal represents the teaching of the Church on repentance and forgiveness, and, under pressure, I believe he said something he should not have said. How so? Here is part of a SMH report (14/11/2012) on what the Cardinal apparently said during a press-conference:

“What of the protocol for priests who might confess abuse to another priest? Well, you know (the answer) to that as well as I – the seal of confession is inviolate. So if a priest confesses to a crime? The seal of confession is inviolate.
But Cardinal Pell would advise priests not to take the confession of a colleague if they had an inkling of abuse. I would never hear the confession of a priest who is suspected of such a thing.

It is that last sentence which floored me. “I would never hear the confession of a priest who is suspected of such a thing.” Catholic teaching ties forgiveness to the absolution by a priest. But if no priest is allowed to hear the confession of a brother priest who is guilty of child sexual abuse, (let alone be under suspicion), it means essentially that he is refused the forgiveness of God. The Cardinal’s statement appears to indicate that child sexual abuse is a sin unforgiveable by God. He has no right to indicate that, or even to imply it. Something is wrong when forgiveness is tied to the type of sin rather than to genuine heartfelt repentance.

Jesus spoke of only one unforgiveable sin. That was the sin of attributing to the devil the healing, cleansing and miracles Jesus did in the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is Matthew 12:24, 31-32:

“But when the Pharisees heard this they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons… And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come.”

Apart from the sin against the Holy Spirit, any sin, no matter how awful or vile, (and there are many, quite apart from abhorrent sexual sins,) is able to be forgiven by the Lord God Almighty. If it were not so then the Calvary sacrifice on Good Friday is not a death ‘once for all’. For my part, I sincerely hope the Cardinal ‘misspoke’ in the pressure of the moment. I also hope that such priests, who must face the legal consequences of their crimes, may know that there is a Throne of Grace where the truly repentant can find the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus the Christ, anytime. Yes, anytime. Yes, even if ‘The Church’ refuses absolution.

Be blessed in Him.  Fred

PS on two things.

First, Andrew West of Radio National’s religion and ethics report wrote about this same matter in the SMH on 23/11/2012. He describes Cardinal Pell as a Vatican Man “who believes that one cannot truly exercise faith without the intermediary institution of the church…”

Second, if a chap by the name of, say, Eddie Obeid, confessed to his priest that he had used inside information to enrich himself from the public purse by, say, $100 million dollars, should the priest be required to divulge this revelation to the appropriate authorities?


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