Samual Butler wrote of those who “compound for sins they are inclin’d to, by damning those they have no mind to.”
Pause for thought. Who were most guilty in the paedophile scandal: the priests who betrayed their trust and corruptly abuse children, or the bishops and other authorities who concealed and protected their paedophile priests – leaving them free to continue their activities?
Before you decide, just consider your own personal guilt. I am assuming that you find paedophilia a vile and disgusting activity. No punishment is enough to deal with such depravity. But have you never been tempted by your own passions? I don’t speak necessarily of sexual passions, but passions of anger, or the passion for saving your own skin, or the passion for getting your own way – take your choice. Do you know what it feels like to struggle with a temptation so strong that for a minute you forget all your principles and your good intentions? You may even have given way and, perhaps with true contrition, realised your failure – and have received forgiveness.
If you have never been tempted, or never fallen – you must either be very close to God or singularly free of any capacity for strong feelings. If the former your closeness will lead you to search for any way to forgive other sinners – for that is what God does; if the latter, you really have no right to judge those who have been tempted. Indeed the more someone is vociferous in their indignation of others’ iniquities the more I think of Emerson’s remark: “The louder he talked of his honor the faster we counted our spoons.”
If it is true, as I know it to be, that I am capable of sins at least as bad as the corrupt priests, or if I accept that, having had the natural temperament and experience of a diocesan bishop, I might have chosen in good faith and psychological naivety, to protect my brother priest and the good name of the Church – then at least I am on warning that I too may fail – although it will be in terms of my particular personal weaknesses and my own experiences.
No one is more ready than I to condemn the abuse of the young or to criticise episcopal failure to rush to their defence. But I am not about to throw the first stone — lest it ricochets, and come back to hit me.