Julián Carrón, the president of Communion and Liberation, in a letter to La Republica, has written the most profound reflection on sexual abuse in the Church I have seen so far.
None of us has ever been as dismayed as we are in front of the heart-wrenching story of child abuse. Our dismay arises from our inability to respond to the demand for justice which springs from the bottom of our hearts.
The request to assume responsibility, the acknowledgement of the evil committed, the reprimand for the mistakes made in the handling of the affair – all of this seems to us to be totally inadequate as we face this sea of evil. Nothing seems to be enough. And so we can understand the frustrated reactions that have been coming forth at this time.
This has all served the purpose of making us stand face to face with our demand for justice, acknowledging that it is limitless, bottomless – as deep as the wound itself. Since it is infinite, it can never be satisfied. So the dissatisfaction, impatience and even the disillusionment of the victims are understandable, even after all the injuries and mistakes have been admitted: nothing can satisfy their thirst for justice. It’s like entering into an endless struggle. From this point of view, the ones who committed the abuse are paradoxically facing a challenge similar to that of the victims: nothing can repair the damage that has been done. This in no way means that their responsibility can be lifted, and much less the verdict that justice may impose upon them; it would not be enough even if they were to serve the maximum sentence.
It is the Pope who, paradoxically, in his disarming boldness, has not fallen prey to reducing justice to any sort of human measure. To begin with, he admitted without hesitation the gravity of the evil committed by priests and religious, urged them to accept their responsibility for it, and condemned the way certain bishops in their fear of scandal have handled the affair, expressing his deep dismay over what had happened and taking steps to ensure that it not happen again. But then, he expressed his full awareness that this is not enough to respond to the demand that there be justice for the harm inflicted: “I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.” Likewise, even if the perpetrators serve their sentences, repent, and do penance, it will never be enough to repair the damage they did to the victims and to themselves.
Benedict XVI’s recognition of the true nature of our need, of our struggle, is the only way to save our full demand for justice; it is the only way to take it seriously, to take it fully into consideration. “The demand for justice is a need that is proper to man, proper to a person. Without the possibility of something beyond, of an answer that lies beyond the existential modalities that we can experience, justice is impossible… If the hypothesis of a ‘beyond’ were eliminated, that demand would be unnaturally suffocated” (Father Giussani). So how did the Pope save this demand? By calling on the only one who can save it, someone who makes the beyond present in the here and now, namely, Christ, the Mystery made flesh. “Jesus Christ … was Himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, He still bears the wounds of His own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church.” Calling on Christ is not a way to seek a hiding place to run off to in the face of the demand for justice: it is the only way to bring justice about.
If the universe is irrational, life is meaningless. A universe without justice is irrational. But how can wrongs ever be righted, how can justice ever be fulfilled. Sexual abuse brings into focus the evil in ever wrong action: the good creation has been damaged, and can never be repaired, because the past cannot be changed.
When a person who has done wrong (and all are sinners) faces this, he knows that the wrong he has done in his life is irreparable. No matter what he does, he can never meet the demands of justice. Justice can never be satisfied, and a universe without justice is irrational and meaningless, and life is not worth living.
Unless justice can be satisfied, life is meaningless. But man can never satisfy justice, he cannot restore life to the murdered, innocence to the defiled. Only an uncreated power not bounded by space or time can do that, and can do it in a way that we can only dimly begin to understand.
Christ bears the wounds of his unjust suffering for all eternity, but now they are glorified. What does that mean for us, for the human sinners and the human victims? – eye has not seen not ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what it means, but the faith that it means something, that somehow in the end God will vindicate all victims, that He will right all wrongs, that He will wipe away the tears from every eye, is the faith of a Church that now sees but in a glass darkly.