Fr. Maloney writes a concise statement in First Things Magazine about the failures of the mercy strategy in the criminal justice system and the Church dealing with sexually predatory priests, in this review of Cardinal Kasper’s book.
If Kasper’s understanding of mercy is wrong, what’s the right way to understand it? Mercy’s political origins are important to remember, because it’s very easy for a flawed application of mercy to lead to grave injustices in real life. The crime waves of the 1970s and early 1980s across England and the United States came in part from the introduction of a false concept of mercy into criminal punishment. Prominent experts at the time suggested that crime was really a form of mental illness that demanded therapy rather than incarceration. Judges developed or were given a variety of sentencing options, including expanded parole and out-of-prison furloughs, aimed at reintegrating criminals into society so that they would feel more connected. Prisons were reoriented around the idea of rehabilitating criminals rather than punishing them. Therapy, leniency, reintegration, and rehabilitation were implemented in one jurisdiction after another—and crime went through the roof. Soon voters were demanding stricter laws.
Around the same time, the Catholic bishops tried to replace canonical punishments with therapy, leniency, reintegration, and rehabilitation. In the 1970s, priests who were reported to be abusers of children were quietly sent for psychiatric treatment to be treated, rehabilitated, and reintegrated into parish ministry, rather than punished according to canon law. This was, among other things, an attempt to show mercy to the priest—by protecting his reputation and allowing him a second chance. In many places, including my own Archdiocese of Boston, psychiatrists pronounced the priests cured and fit for ministry even after several “relapses,” and the bishops did not second-guess the psychiatrists. Neither did they apply canonical penalties. Today, the bishops do not permit themselves even the possibility of granting mercy to a priest who has been accused of such a sin or committed it only once.
Is my bishop, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, merciless for enforcing the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, with its famous “zero tolerance” for abusers? I’m quite sure that Pope Francis doesn’t think so, since he just appointed him to head the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Probably most of America would think likewise. But why? Why does the Boston Globe’s readership think that it’s a scandal for the Church to show “mercy” to priests who committed one serious sin of abuse forty years ago but that it’s a sign of the wonderfulness of Pope Francis that he’s reportedly considering showing “mercy” to a man who dumped his wife and kids for a younger woman, also forty years ago? A consistent principle of mercy is lacking, and Walter Kasper has not helped us find one.
Retrieved March 7, 2015 from http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/03/what-mercy-is