Penitentiary


Some St Blog commenters wonder about what seems to be easy treatment of a sex offender. It is important to consider that before individual confession became the Catholic rage, serious sins were publicly confessed. Only a bishop could grant sacramental absolution, which usually followed years of reform in a strict monastic setting, hence the root of the word penitentiary.

Having retreated with Cistercians and being a frequent guest here through my twenties, I know Cistercian life is demanding. It seems appropriate that a fallen bishop would go to Mepkin for healing and metanoia. Too bad the world doesn’t have more places for the thousands of offenders (priests and laity) who have damaged so many young lives.

The tone of some would suggest sex abusers deserve breaking rocks or other such satisfying punishments. I’ve known many people who were sexually abused as children, and I’ve heard of that particular hell many times from the victim’s side. But I have no desire to turn over my soul to see someone brutalized as they had brutalized others. I find monastic wisdom of discipline, peace, work, and prayer to be most appropriate in this instance. Society might be better for running prisons like monasteries — or true penitentiaries. The bishop is still fortunate for his experience — most offender priests will not have a second chance like this — but I doubt it is an easy life.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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