Are Calls for Collective Penance for the Sex Abuse Scandal an Exercise in Blame Shifting?
Writing at National Catholic Register, Mark Shea provides an answer:
... The notion of doing penance for others is a tricky one, particularly when those others are fellow Catholics who have wronged us by their sin and especially when those others are, in fact, the very priests who have been entrusted with the Tradition that bids us to do penance for others. It’s incredibly easy for the guilty parties to use such things as penance as a sort of tool for dissolving their actual guilt for actual sins in a sort of collective pool of “Well, we’re all sinners” or even “Hey! You are to blame for letting me sin!” or some other blame-shifting nonsense. One of the common themes to emerge from the scandal has been that monsters like Fr. Maciel would indeed abuse their victims and then lay the guilt for the abuse on the victim. And depending on how psychologically strong the victim was, that burden of guilt would often be accepted. It is not the least of that man’s crimes and may God have mercy on his soul for it.(Hat tip: Darwin at The American Catholic)
So it’s not too surprising that calls for Catholics to do penance for these sins often get interpreted as blame-shifting. However, I would submit that this is not, properly understood, how we who bear no personal responsibility for the Scandal should understand the call to penance. Penance does not mean “take the fall and bear the blame so that guilty people can skate or dissolve their sense of responsibility for the crimes in the Collective”. Penance is, in the Christian tradition, our participation in the innocent suffering of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. Our tradition tells us that Christ who knew no sin, became sin for our sake so that we might become the righteousness of God. He bore the sins of the world, but he did not commit the sins of the world. He was blameless, and opened not his mouth, says Isaiah. Similarly, in Christ, Paul declares that he fills up in his flesh what is lacking with respect to the suffering of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church (Colossians 1:24). That doesn’t mean “Jesus didn’t do enough so I have to make up for his well-meaning but inadequate effort on the Cross.” Rather, it means that as Christians, we bear the cross with Jesus and offer our innocent sufferings in union with His for the good of others—including others who are sinners as guilty as hell...