When I researching the book on clerical murders that I have underway, I noticed that even secular newspapers from 1900 -1920 used the words expiation in regard to punishment, especially capital punishment. Now the word expiation appears only in crossword puzzles.
The word and the concept appear to be suffering a similar fate in Catholic theology:
According to the chairman of the Catholic bishops’ conference of Germany, the death of Jesus Christ was not a redemptive act of God to liberate human beings from the bondage of sin and open the gates of heaven. The Archbishop of Freiburg, Robert Zollitsch, known for his liberal views, publicly denied the fundamental Christian dogma of the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death in a recent interview with a German television station.
Zollitsch said that Christ “did not die for the sins of the people as if God had provided a sacrificial offering, like a scapegoat.”
Instead, Jesus had offered only “solidarity” with the poor and suffering. Zollitsch said “that is this great perspective, this tremendous solidarity.”
The interviewer asked, “You would now no longer describe it in such a way that God gave his own son, because we humans were so sinful? You would no longer describe it like this?”
Monsignor Zollitsch responded, “No.”
The loss of the sense of expiation may help explain why the hierarchy treated abusers so lightly: expiatory punishment is a forgotten concept.