“We Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word 'penance,' which seemed too harsh to us. Now, under the attacks of the world that speaks to us of our sins, we see that being able to do penance is a grace.”
The Pope's words are a recall to a source of spiritual vigor: a bracing sense of penance. Imagine if this had been active in, if not the sick perpetrators of abuse, at least in their immediate superiors, who might then have had the courage, based on virtue, to deal vigorously with the evil in their midst?
Predictably, where the Holy Father is addressing the spiritual roots of the crisis, those who expect him (in spontaneous remarks?) to enact and enforce firm legislative and punitive measures are quick to express dissatisfaction.
It strikes me as very odd indeed that our culture, which exalts autonomy, insists that every form of authority be subject to the approval of the majority, and decries any hint of judgmentalism, seems to be equally insistent that the Pope act personally, harshly, universally, and autocratically. And if he seems to fail in this (by standards set by those who call the Pope to task, not necessarily according to Canon Law or the Petrine ministry!), he is judged dismissively. And not simply by those who were victims of abuse, who bear the quite reasonable need to be reassured that their sufferings will not be inflicted on others.
I was struck this morning at how fitting today's first Psalm from the Liturgy of the Hours is; I used it as my morning meditation, and now in the evening, I am still praying with it:
O shepherd of Israel, hear us,
you who lead Joseph's (!) flock,
shine forth from your cherubim throne....
Lord God of hosts, how long will you frown on your people's plea?
You have fed them with tears for their bread,
an abundance of tears for their drink.
You have made us the taunt of our neighbors,
our enemies laugh us to scorn.
God of hosts, bring us back!
Let your face shine on us and we shall be saved....
May your hand be on the man you have chosen,
the man you have given your strength.
And we shall never forsake you again.