Australia's highest ranking Roman Catholic, Cardinal George Pell has been convicted of historical sex crimes against children and is now in prison. Pell is appealing the verdict and maintaining his innocence which is making many people angry. I've heard Christians say that he should rot in hell. I've heard other Christians say that he has disqualified himself from Heaven. Some suggest that a person who commits such heinous crimes can not, in fact, be a Christian.
I'm reminded of Jesus' handling of the woman caught in adultery when he addressed the crowd who wanted to stone the woman for her sin. "Let the person among you who is without sin throw the first stone," said Jesus. (John 8:7) The crowd dispersed. Angry mobs don't always respond with such humility. It's easier to focus on another person's sins than our own. It's easy to justify, excuse, and categorize sin. In complete contrast to most human reactions to sin, Jesus showed mercy to the woman. James says this, in his epistle: "For judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment."(James 2:13)
The Royal Commission into institutionalized responses to child sex abuse heard thousands of submissions from victims which resulted in 2575 referrals to authorities, including but not limited to police. The Royal Commission final report said this: "The perpetrators of child sexual abuse in religious institutions were in many cases people that children most trusted and least suspected." The findings of the Commission are particularly damning for the Roman Catholic Church. Priests and teachers in Roman Catholic schools make up the highest number, by far, of child sexual abuse offenders.
Most people are outraged, shocked, saddened even sickened by the very thought of sexually abusing children, even though more children are abused in other ways than sexually. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies sexual abuse ranks only fourth in substantiated reports of harm to children. I'm not an expert, nor am I a victim, but I would suggest it's a mistake to consider any form of child abuse as worse than another. Australia wide substantiated reports of emotional abuse of children in 2015/16 were three and half times higher than reports of sexual abuse.
Sex crimes get more attention, and if you took a poll, you would likely find that the sexual abuse of children is considered the worst of all crimes.
George Pell's case is incredible for many reasons. It literally defies belief that someone in his position, with his high profile and his power would do what he did. Why? Forgetting the fact that a particularly action is wrong, both morally and legally, why would such a person with so much to lose, risk everything?
Why do people abuse children? Why do people abuse other people, period? Why do people abuse substances? Why do people do things they know are wrong? Why can't people understand there are fundamental flaws in human nature?
Returning to the issue of Roman Catholic Priests sexually abusing children: there is no way this is anything less than a disgusting and reprehensible abuse of power by deluded hypocrites. Enforced celibacy for priests is a likely part of the problem, but the church is saying it will continue to mandate celibacy. Celibacy is a gift according to the Bible. Celibacy is a choice for some people. Celibacy is certainly not something to be imposed. It is a denial of a major component of a person's humanity. It is a denial of reality. A delusion which has seen many men inside the church, not only the Roman Catholic Church, fall into sexual sin.
As for Cardinal Pell, I doubt he will burn or rot in hell, but I am not his judge. I am not qualified. I think his punishment has already been great: his opprobrium, his humiliation, his imprisonment. Pain for himself and his friends and family. Pain for the church. Pain for the community and pain for the victims of abuse who often become abuses of others, as well as drug and alcohol abusers. Some victims find these coping mechanisms ineffective, and simply chose to kill themselves rather than continue to deal with the pain.
Let's be honest, self aware and compassionate. Mercy triumphs over judgement.
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