The Boston Globe reports that the key to the Archdiocese’s legal strategy of First Amendment protection from lawsuits over pervert priests is the doctrine of redemption. The idea is that supposedly the Church’s doctrine of forgiveness and redemption requires the bishops to overlook the past sins of perverts. And this idea is gaining currency in the US bishops’ conference.
Mark Chopko, general counsel to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, adds that there is no way to judge the church leaders’ actions without also considering their beliefs. “How do you measure the reasonableness of a policy set in religious doctrines of forgiveness, of redemption and so forth?” he said.
The problem with this defense is that it ignores the difference between forgiveness and gullibility. If someone steals money out of my wallet I can forgive him, but I won’t let him near my wallet again. There is no reason that these priests can’t receive sacramental forgiveness and yet be barred from further pastoral ministry. And the Church’s own policies undermine this defense. The bishops themselves have recognized that you can’t let pervert priests remain in ministry and yet that doesn’t seem a contradiction of the Church’s teachings on redemption.
The legal strategy seems like it wouldn’t fly, but courts in Wisconsin and Maine have dismissed lawsuits based on it. It remains to be seen if it stands up on appeal.