Jesus of Nazareth, Mark 9:42 (Common English Bible)
On Friday, Pope Francis made a statement personally asking for forgiveness for the priests who have been involved in sexual abuse scandals. It is the first time that a pope has taken responsibility in this manner.
As we see this crucial move forward, we understand that forgiveness for sins done against you is an important step in healing. For those who have experienced sexual abuse, forgiving the abuser is key in that it releases the power over the victim.
When you have forgiven the abuser, you are in a sense, claiming that they have no power over you.
This is very different from allowing continued abuse or removing yourself from abusive situations or even being around an abuser. You can forgive someone of the abuse but still be distant from them in order to remain happy and healthy.
Pope Francis claims that the church will deal harshly with the abusive priests. My hope is that they'll be removed from the priesthood. It seems that this should be the standard for those wounding others who have placed their trust in them. This does not mean that the church cannot forgive them but it does mean that the church should have standards for what it means to be set aside for service to the church as a clergy-person.
For United Methodists, I know of one case in particular where a pastor's credentials were removed after being convicted of sexual abuse. It is simply not allowed.
The church cannot prevent every situation of abuse that will occur but it can prevent future abuse from happening by a pastor or priest known to be abusive.
I'm not for witch hunts of the clergy but when children are damaged, it is clear that these are not fit to serve in this capacity.
As we pray during Lent, let us pray for those who have been sexually abused that they may find healing and that their faith may be restored. Let us also pray for the abusers - it is likely that they were once abused as children too. Let us find grace and healing as the church.