Zero tolerance policies for sexual abuse

The norms approved by the Bishop's Conference of the United States and given recognitio by the Holy See for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests or deacons, include two measures that could be described as zero-tolerance for sexual abuse.

  • Those guilty of such abuse are to be permanently removed from ecclesiastical ministry. "When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants."
  • When there is adequate evidence of sexual abuse of minors, the cleric shall be removed from ministry until the investigative process is completed. "When there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith shall be notified. The bishop/eparch shall then apply the precautionary measures mentioned in CIC, canon 1722, or CCEO, canon 1473—i.e., remove the accused from the sacred ministry or from any ecclesiastical office or function, impose or prohibit residence in a given place or territory, and prohibit public participation in the Most Holy Eucharist pending the outcome of the process."

The first of these provisions has substantial roots already in the 1917 code of canon law, which provides in canon 2359, that clerics guilty of a crime against the sixth commandment with a minor under the age of sixteen, are to be suspended, and in more serious cases deposed from the clerical state. This seems to be perfectly reasonable for the sake of the common good, given how harmful such crimes are to youth and to the Church. And speaking from the side of the clerics, my own feeling is that if I were ever to commit such a crime, I would likely feel obliged in conscience to give up the ministry. Though admittedly, it may be easy to feel this way, being confident that I will never do such a thing.

The second provision is somewhat vague, and probably has to be that way. In the process of investigating an accusation, one may find that the accusation "seems true", is probable, or "credible". Once a probable opinion of guilt has been formed, the provision to protect others and uphold the sanctity of the ministry by removing the accused cleric from ministry until the investigative process is completed seems fairly reasonable.

That an accusation "seems true", or is probable, presupposes some investigation, at least brief, of the accusation in question, cannot always be very quickly ascertained. I get the impression, though, that in some dioceses of the USA, when any accusation is received that is taken seriously enough to begin any real investigative process, the cleric is immediately put on administrative leave. If this is true, it may be ultimately counter-productive, encouraging those in persons of authority to try to avoid hearing accusations that might be true but are not very likely to be so. Again, review boards may come under pressure to make a quick decision regarding the credibility of an accusation. If the accusation seems to them very probably false, but with some small chance of being true, they are in somewhat of a dilemma: they can decide that the accusation is credible, which requires putting the accused cleric on administrative leave and possible damaging his reputation; or they can decided that the accusation is not credible, meaning that it will not be further investigated. But there will surely be middle cases, where after a very brief preliminary investigation, there remain insufficient grounds to take any action against the accused, but sufficient grounds to justify further investigation.

Guilt proven beyond doubt may justify imposition of penalties without exception, and probable guilt may justify measures taken without exception to safe guard children, but enough possibility of guilt to warrant further investigation does not always justify any immediate administrative measures.

Forcing a black-white decision (probably guilty on the one hand, or surely not guilty on the other hand) too quickly will probably lead both to injustice against some persons judged probably guilty who should not have been, and to injustice against further victims who should and could have been protected.

Celibacy and the sexual abuse crisis

Over the past years, when a larger report of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests comes out, again and again opponents of priestly celibacy come out suggesting that the Church's discipline, in the Roman Rite, of requiring permanent and perpetual celibacy of its priests, contributes to the abuse crisis, or is even a major risk factor, or still more strongly, "will predictably produce this kind of result".

Others claim that "Clerical child sex abuse has nothing whatever to do with celibacy."

The truth, as is many cases, likely lies between these extremes, though it is cannot be neatly located on the scale from "causes the crisis" to "has nothing to do with it".

Leaving aside any empirical statistical evidence on the frequent of sexual abuse by celibate or non-celibate men, some aspects of celibacy would, taken on their own, suggest a connection between priestly celibacy and abuse, while others would suggest an inverse correlation (mandatory celibacy for priests countering the risk of someone abuser vulnerable persons).

Marriage as a remedy for concupiscence — suggestive of a connection between mandatory priestly celibacy and abuse
Marriage has long been described by Christian saints and writes as a remedy for concupiscence, by St. Augustine (see, for just one example, On Marriage and Concupiscence, Thomas Aquinas (see Summa theologiae, supplement, q. 42, article 3, Whether matrimony confers grace, and a multitude of others (see a selection of texts in the post Is marriage for the weak?). In this respect, it would not be surprising to find that those who are not in a position to legitimately satisfy sexual desire in marriage, are more likely to satisfy sexual desires in illegitimate ways, up to and including abusive ways. Celibacy does not make a man's sexual desires perverse or disordered; rather, his sexual desire is lacking order to begin with, being in the first place an instinctual drive, that must be governed by reason; the lack of the structured governance of that drive provided in marriage will, in the absence of contrary remedies, tend to lead to more disordered desires and acts.

Celibacy as freely chosen, involving abstinence even from legitimate sexual pleasure in marriage — suggestive of an inverse correlation between mandatory priestly celibacy and abuse
On the other hand, no one is forced to become a priest, and so, when we speak of priestly celibacy, we are not speaking of celibacy imposed randomly, independently of man's will, or even against man's will. Rather, it is a celibacy freely chosen (even if, in a particular instance, chosen principally as a condition or means to the desired end, the priesthood). If those who freely choose celibacy do so with adequate deliberation and a firm will to live it, if they belong to those "who can take it" (Matthew 19:12), we should, other things being equal, expect them to less frequently fall into sexual sin. For he is capable, or takes the means to render himself capable, of refraining from satisfying sexual desire in a legitimate manner in marriage, is much more capable of refraining from satisfying sexual desire in a sinful manner.

Celibacy as chosen by reason of being drawn to that way of life or not drawn to marriage — possibly suggestive of a connection between celibacy and abuse
No one is forced to become a priest. But also, in most cases, priests are, in the first instance, self-selected. Catholic communities and bishops could, in theory, come to men with the proposal, "we would like you to be a priest; are you willing to remain celibate for the rest of your life, study theology, to serve the Church in this diocese, etc.?" But, in many or most cases, the decisive initiative is taken by the men themselves who consider the priesthood. Given the association of the priesthood with celibacy, this has a unintended consequence: those who, for whatever reason, are not inclined to marriage — homosexuality, asexuality, sexual immaturity, sexual disorders — will be over-represented among applicants to the seminary. In the absence of an adequate mechanism to identify and exclude them, persons with certain sexual problems may also end up being over-represented in the presbyterate. And, very plausibly, some of those sexual problems will manifest themselves in distorted ways, including abusive ones.

Celibate priesthood as a special class — positive and negative aspects
A fourth point regarding celibacy is somewhat ambivalent: the discipline of celibacy tends to reinforce the image of the priesthood as a special class of Christians. This aspect of celibacy, might, in some times and places, contribute to a culture set firmly against all abuse, inasmuch as other priests who get wind of possible abuse are keen to uphold the reality of their class as a holy state, called in a special way to Christian virtue and holiness, and for whom, therefore, such sins are still more intolerable than they are in the case of lay persons. On the other hand, that the celibate priesthood makes up a special class may also have the opposite effect, lead to a culture permissive of abuse, because (1) one stands up for one's own, defends one's brother priests, assuming their innocence or downplaying their faults, because (2) one desires to uphold the image of the priestly state as a holy state, or because (3) the discrepancy in one's own life between the greater ideal of holiness to which one is called and one's actual life, causes one to misjudge the gravity of other sins; in the theological tradition, and expressly in the 1917 code of canon law, canon 132, clerics in major orders are so obliged to chastity that to sin against it is to be guilty of sacrilege (the notion behind this is that the priest's whole self, including his body, is dedicated to the Lord as something holy, so to sin against it is to violate what is holy); a priest guilty of habitual impurity, whether by fornication, adultery, masturbation, pornography, or impure thoughts, could possibly become thereby less inhibited from a crime such as abusing minors than a lay person guilty of the same habitual impurity would; similarly, a priest guilty of such impurity, whether occasional or habitual, may view such a crime by another priest less seriously than a lay person would.
Various problematic issues arising in connection with the priesthood as a special case are often treated under the notion of clericalism, by pope Francis (Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God), and others (e.g., Sexual abuse and the culture of clericalism).

In view of these considerations, some of which, taken on their own, would suggest a link between celibacy and abuse, while others would suggest that celibate priests might be less likely to be sexually abusive, it is not too surprising, that, on some accounting, sexual abuse of minors (or at least behavior evoking a serious accusation of such abuse) is as common by married Anglican clergy as by celibate roman catholic clergy. (See, e.g. Does Celibacy Contribute to Clerical Sex Abuse? by Richard Cross, and the therein reference studies.)

At any rate, the issue is much more complex than "celibacy is unrelated to the issue of sexual abuse" or "celibacy is a principal cause of sexual abuse".

Homily for the 22th Sunday in ordinary time, year B

"For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance." (Matt 13:12) These words of Christ are true on many levels. Those blessed with good parents, to grow up in an intact family where peace is lived within the family, where parents encourage them, who have many natural talents, are thereby better equipped to leverage their position and abilities to achieve their goals, exterior goals such as getting a job or starting a business, and interior goals such as learning discipline and perseverance.

But as a secret treasure doesn't benefit someone if he knows nothing at all about it, so the blessings we have won't do much for us if we don't perceive them. And conversely, they will profit us more, if we not only are aware of them, but recognize them precisely as blessings given us by God. But really, everything good we have, receive, do, and enjoy, is a blessing given us by God. "Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17) Thankfulness for what we've been given is a virtue, and gratitude towards God is like a virtue supporting all others. As hope and joy are key in directing us toward what we have not yet attained and resting in the good we have, so gratitude plays a key role in distinguishing joy from mere pleasure, in giving deep meaning to the goods we enjoy: they do not arise simply by happenstance, nor are they merely the fruit of our labors, but are a gift given us by someone who loves us deeply, by God himself.

Gratitude leads naturally to responsibility. A rich, but spoiled child, ungrateful for all he has received from his parents, is readily incline to spend-thriftiness and laziness. Whereas a child of parents with more moderate means, grateful for his parents and all he has received from them, is inclined to apply himself and what he has to achieve his goals.

St. James exhorts us: "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22) Receiving the word of Christ in a personal manner, as a gift granted and entrusted to us, leads us to respond in kind. And so obedience to the demands of the Gospel is a sign that we've received the word within our heart. St. James adduces as an example visiting orphans and widows, and keeping oneself pure from worldly excesses and perversions.

To many, the moral requirements of the Gospel of Christ and the Church appear rather as a burden making life worse than as a way and means to happiness. This notion is one of the many causes why christian faith is not taken serious or even outright rejected. The decisive reason for the abandonment of Christianity,” wrote Cardinal Ratzinger, the year before he became Pope, is that “It seems to place too many restraints on humankind that stifle its joie de vivre, that limit its precious freedom, and that do not lead it to open pastures but rather into want, into deprivation.”

It is true that, those who, in faith, experience their life as a way in friendship with God, who live each day grateful for the blessings of that day and the life, do not always find it easy in a given moment to do what is right and good. But, for them, on the whole, it is ultimately a joy rather than a burden to follow the Lord, to love and serve him. In this way they experience in their own lives the truth of the Lord’s promise, “My yoke is sweet and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:30).

Wherever on this spectrum we may fall, whether we’ve merely accepted the faith from our parents as something we just take it for granted, and don’t find it any particular source of great joy, or whether we have already experienced the tremendous joy of knowing Christ, let’s pray for a grateful heart every day, to be attentive to the many good things that happen to us, and that we ourselves achieve, to see this a loving gift of God to us, and to respond in kind, with a joyful and loving heart to him, in Himself and in our brothers and sisters.

Homily for the 21th Sunday in ordinary time, year B

Jesus Christ turned many things upside down. The Son of God, the Almighty, Immortal, became man and subjected himself to the weakness of the cross, to save those who had offended His Father by their sin, also us. And so, through his teaching, life and death, he transformed all sorts of power relationships.
Worldwide and in the history of the human race the man tends to stand above the woman, to have more power or authority in the relationship between them and in society.
Paul recognizes such a relationship between husband and wife, however — and this is a tremendous qualification — in the context of a mutual subject in reverence for Christ, and, still more, with the understanding that in the body of Christ, every authority and power is for the benefit of the subordinate or weaker, regardless whether the authority arises from an office, ability, or a particular situation. For Christ, too, came to serve and to give us life for us. St. Paul, in a manner, inverts the power relationship (“Husbands, love your wives”). Contrary to the common polemic, according to which the Church oppresses women, it is especially there, where the Church and Christianity flowered, that the dignity and freedom of women is most recognized. Still, it took a long time for the teaching of Christ and St. Paul to penetrate the culture, and we must admit that it is various respects still not fully realized.
The general principle, that power and authority is for the benefit of the weaker and subordinate, I want to connect today with the various reports from the USA and Ireland over the past few weeks, which most of you have likely heard something of in newspapers or on television, of abuse perpetrated by deacons, priests and bishops within the Church, against those entrusted to them, men and women, youth, children. That would be bad enough, but what at least in my country, the USA, especially outrages persons, and that not only the usual enemies of the Church, who are always on the lookout for an occasion to attack the Church, but also those most faithful to the Church, is the way in which many cases were dealt with, that greater attention was given to preserving the Church's image or retaining the Church's ministers than to doing all reasonably possibly to prevent further abuses.
On this subject I want to make three points today.
First, we should not neither instrumentalize nor polemize the suffering of victims. Many gladly use such reports as an occasion to push for something that they are in favor of regardless. Within the Church, from one side (the liberal), the abuse is used to argue against the discipline of priestly celibacy, from another side (conservative/orthodox), to argue for stricter upholding of the Church's teaching and discipline regarding homosexuality and the priestly ministry. From without the Church, it is used to argue, in effect, that the Church is inherently wicked, does more harm than good. Very briefly, to the concrete issues: the incidence of abuse perpetrated by Anglican priests, who are generally married, is the same as that perpetrated by Roman Catholic priests, who are generally celibate; and in both cases it is something like twice as rate as the incidence of some crimes by teachers and coaches, who are in many cases married. So there is at least no immediate statistical evidence to conclude that either the priestly office or celibacy increases the chance of a man becoming a perpetrator. That said, given the Church's call to holiness, it is no claim to fame that its ministers are only just as prone to sexual misbehavior and crimes as other religious ministers are, are just somewhat less than other professions. And there may be some substantive issues in some cases linked with celibacy, e.g., loneliness, particularly for those not living in some form of community. The issue of homosexuality is more complex; here, in fact, the majority of persons abused by priests are male, though overall females are abused more than males. On the other hand, many perpetrators at least claim that the sex of the victim did not particularly matter to them… it was a matter of who was accessible to them. To the third point, again, the incidence of abuse by ministers of the Church, as far as we have definite numbers, is less than that in non-religious educational institutions, or sport clubs, as well as by family members. That doesn't make the abuse by ministers of the Church in any way okay, but does take the feet out of the argument that the Church's teaching on salvation, sin, sexuality, etc. or structure inclines people generally to wickedness.
More fundamentally, while all such reports may provide food for thought and possible input and evidence on these various topics, it is a unjust instrumentalization of victim's sufferings to use them merely to prop up positions one holds otherwise.
For us all, it is important, on the one hand, not to exaggerate the evil and tar all ministers with the same brush, nor, on the other hand, out of zeal for the Church, to downplay the wrong and the abuses in handling the situations.

We can, however, and this is my second point, learn some things and recognize certain temptations and pitfalls to be avoided. In the Church, as a long-standing institution being and recognizing itself as the bearer of the most important message, the Gospel, and even, in its sacraments and life, of Jesus Christ himself, one can easily be tempted to overrate oneself and to focus on self-preservation. To preserve its image, to be unwilling to believe that such a good priest could do such a thing (and laity may fall prey to this temptation just as much as bishops or other priests); to preserve its peace, to be unwilling to upset things; to preserve its constituency, its ministers (and here, too, it is not just bishops, but also laity, who often put such on a emphasis on having a priest, regardless of his qualities or deficiencies). For such reasons, priests have, at times, been silently moved to other parishes, even while those responsible knew of grave misdeeds.
This isn't something that happens only in the Church. The same thing happens in families and extended families, where most cases of abuse take place. One doesn't want or can't believe such a thing about one's stepfather, uncle, brother, nephew; one doesn't want to disturb family peace or cause a ruckus, one doesn't want to get involved, doesn't want to set something in motion that could lead to a indictment or prison for a relative, etc.

Thirdly, recognizing the existence of such temptations, we need to make it a point, in the Church, in families and extended families, not to look away or ignore the situation, when we have a bad feeling about a situation, or hear something about it, from a potential victim or another person, but to carefully look at it. Not to silently let it be, but to do something. In many cases, the first step should be to get advice, to talk about the situation with someone not so close to it and so emotionally involved, with someone with experience or education in the area. For, indeed, to act too quickly, especially when it is a case where active abuse is still ongoing, came not infrequently cause more harm than good. (Some comments about institutions serving this purpose in the diocese of Vienna made here…) We are called to co-responsibility for each other within the body of Christ, whether ordained or not, and regardless of our place in the hierarchy.

I'd like to close with a more general look at this temptation to self-preservation. The temptation to avoid the real problem, and instead focus on preservation, can appear in many other areas. E.g., in countries that were Christian for many centuries, a Christian and ecclesial culture was taken for granted. Those who couldn't name any other reason to go to Church on Sunday than the fact that it was customary, and that "that's just what one does", still went out of custom and as a tradition. In face of the rapid decline in Christian and ecclesial culture the temptation can be great to take up the attitude of preservation and resistance, a defense mechanism keeping us from recognizing the state of the faith in purportedly Christian countries such as Austria, to think, "the most important thing is, we still have a priest"; "the most important thing is, we still have OUR Mass", to oppose proposed parish unions, joint liturgies celebrated in another Church, etc. This, too, can be a distraction from what is happening, finally, a distraction from HIM, who alone matters. Peter says, "to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life"; if it is a matter of preservation, than a matter of preserving <i>his</i> presence in the Church, <i>his</i> words, <i>his</i> teaching.

I'd like to close with a prayer… []


Encounter with pilgrims

Last week, on the evening of the feast of the Assumption, I had a surprise visit from a group of 22 Spanish pilgrims making their way on foot from Krakow, Poland to Mariazell, Austria, including one married couple going with three of their older children. The pilgrimage was led by a priest who founded a home for homeless persons in Madrid. Many of the participants are volunteers for the home, some others got to know the priest in another way. They stayed in the parish hall overnight, and had supper and breakfast here.

One special feature of this pilgrimage was their reliance on divine providence and the generosity of benefactors on the way; though they had planned in advance approximately how far they would go each day, and thus the town or towns where they would be towards the evening, they did not plan in advance for food or shelter, and would not buy food along the way, but begged for it when they came. (In the case of food, one told me, when no one gave them something, they would practice dumpster diving at supermarkets, which I guess is a modern-day equivalent of gleaning the leftovers from farmer's fields.)

This dependence upon providence and the generosity of those they meet reflects in some way the complementarity of the contemplative and active life in the body of Christ. The pilgrims, by voluntarily choosing not to provide for themselves, show, on the one hand, that we should seek above all the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and to those who do so, all other things will be given as God wills, and on the other hand, providing spiritual goods to the community (making visible the priority of God before all else, as well as their prayer for the communities through which they pass and for their benefactors), fittingly receive material goods from them.

Homily for the 20th Sunday in ordinary time, year B (with Hunting club)

We can do one and the same thing in various ways and with various attitudes: we can perform a task rushing about in a hurry or with calm and composure, we can do a friend’s bidding with joy or grudgingly, we can entrust someone with responsibility with confidence or fear that something will go wrong. The ability to consistently do what is right, and do it with the attitudes appropriate to the situation, is what we call virtue.

Such virtues are necessary in hunting. It is not the hunter with the best weapon and the best clothing or camouflage who has success, but above all the one who can attend to the was of nature and the animals, who can recognize nature’s changing moods, and who has the patience to wait for the right moment.

A hunter has to wait for the right moment, to accept his own limits. Even the expert cannot assure success on a given day. Sometimes it is granted as one is finishing for the day and going home. Or, in turn, a sudden fog or change of wind can steal away an apparently assured game.

Not all of us are hunters, but we are all pursuing a variety of things: security or success in life, recognition, friendship, love… here, too, interior attitudes count more than exterior presuppositions. Not he attains happiness, who has the most money from his parents or grandparents, or the best education, but who can attend to himself and to others, who recognizes himself honestly, with strengths and weaknesses, and with humility and confidence puts them to work, and last but not least, indeed of greatest importance, he who can recognize the tracks, the gestures, and the words of God in his life, and follows them. Sometimes he speaks quietly, and we can easily overhear him. Sometimes he comes close, intervenes in our life, to draw out attention. Sometimes he distances himself, to rouse us.

According to the legend, Jesus Christ appeared to Hubert in the form of a deer. Hubert had an interior conversion, and from that point on viewed hunting in the greater context of the pursuit of the true meaning of life happiness, found in God’s plan for us.

So are we all called, whether or not hunters in the usual sense, to have open eyes and ears when God speaks to us, and to see our activities, responsibilities, interests and desires in the context of his plan, in which we are called, in various ways, to serve him, to serve the Church, to serve mankind in Christ Jesus, who came not to be served but to server.

Holy Communion is given us to strengthen us in this vocation. One who really wants and allows it, will be changed, transformed by this sacrament. The life of Jesus, the fullness of life, can become more and more my life, the more frequently, or rather and above all, the more intensely I united myself with him and receive him. The fruit is very much dependent on myself, whether I permit such a transformation. God does not force me, he makes a generous offer, comes to me under the appearance of bread. I can receive him out of habit, carelessly, and go my way. I can ignore it altogether, as so many, indeed the majority, who no longer even consider it worthwhile to attend Mass on Christmas and Easter (no wonder, that the sacraments of Christ and the Church do little to change their lives for their better, when they are so despised), or I can be open for the mystery of the Eucharist, strive to receive with great faith, love, and devotion, and then amazing things can happen in my life.

If we accept Christ’s offer of himself in this sacrament, we have a twofold task: to receive the Body of Christ, and to be open to him and amenable to his working in us; to thereby become the body of Christ, the Church, sacrament in the world for the life of the world. The many persons who do not understood or believe in the sacraments of the Church, may come to faith through us. If they can grasp the presence of the body of Christ in and through us, the Church, can perceive Christ living in us, they can through us come to faith in this sacrament too, to believe that the living Christ is truly present in this Most Holy Sacrament.

This homily was held in 2018 at a Mass with the hunting club of Eggendorf, reconstructed and translated from notes and memory.

Homily for the Assumption of Mary

At the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken in soul and body to heaven, that is, to the glory of eternal life in God.

When a loved one dies, he continues to exist in a certain fashion in the men and women who knew and loved him. As far as they can, they keep alive in their mind and hearts. But though they may want it, they cannot keep him really alive.
But God's love is the very reason we exist. We exist only because he has loved us from eternity and willed us to be. This love can preserve in being all within the communion of this love.

The original sin of Adam and Eve meant a turning away from this love. Shut off from full communion with this creative and life-giving love, the human race would have but a shadowy existence, returning nearly to the nothingness from which God's love had called it. Yet God in his mercy and love sent his Son came to renew the communion and friendship. By his death and resurrection he broke the bonds of death and renewed man's friendship with God. Made sharers in the mystery of his death and resurrection, we share also in his victory over sin and death. Already now, incorporated in Christ through grace and baptism, through faith and charity, we share in Christ's resurrection, possess eternal life within us, according to his promise: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life" (John 6:54) And though subject to weakness of body and to death, we hope to share in this life also in our bodies. "And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:54)

We see the fulfillment of this saving mystery and of our hope in a special way in Mary. Chosen to be the Mother of God, she is so closely united to Christ that already, immediately at the end of her earthly life, she shares fully in the resurrection of her Son in body and in soul, she lives now what we profess in the creed and hope for at the end of the world, the bodily resurrection of the dead.
Mary's sharing in Christ's definitive victory over death crowns her faith in the Word of God and her complete dedication to the Lord, of whom she became the temple, body and soul. As St. Augustine remarks, "Before conceiving the Lord in her body she had already conceived him in her soul," and this grace was still greater than merely bodily motherhood, as Christ remarks in relation to the blessedness of this motherhood, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:28) By divine grace Mary was prepared to be the dwelling place of God Himself, prepared body and soul, prepared forever. Thus she is blessed above all human creatures.

At the same time Mary shows us how we become blessed. We are blessed to the extent that we become dwelling places for the Lord, that we allow him to live in us. We do this first through faith. Elizabeth says to Mary: "Blessed is she who has believed" (Luke 1:45). This is the first step of beatitude, to believe and to trust in God, who reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ, who became Incarnate through the Virgin Mary, and who wills to show Himself through us – through our deeds and in our bodies – and to lead us to definitive communion with Him.

Mary responds: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46). She does not glory in praise of herself, but turns it to God. And this is the second step of beatitude, to turn the eyes of our heart to the Lord more than to ourselves, to love and to rejoice in the will of God more than in our own will. God's every will is done, and nothing happens without God's will, so to the extent we attain to this attitude of always loving and rejoicing in God's will, we shall already have attained the substance of true beatitude.

Let us praise and glorify the work of God in Mary, whom he graced above all other creatures and exalted in Heaven with her Son. Let us see in her what the Lord calls each of us to: a life of faith and love, a life that the Lord will bring to perfection in both our bodies and in our souls if we remain faithful to Him. And let us ask the Lord to strengthen our faith in eternal life, to increase our love, and to make us always joyful persons who live in trusting confidence that all things work out for good to those who love God.

(This homily takes up a number of thoughts expressed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.)

The Purposes of Punishment according to Thomas Aquinas

Punishments, whether punishment with which parents punish their children for misbehaving, judges declare punishment for a crime, or God punishes men's sins, have various ends or purposes. Thomas Aquinas summarizes these purposes under two headings: 1. To restrain or inhibit voluntary evil; 2. to establish order there, where a crime has made disorder.

The evil of punishment is imposed to coerce and to order the evil of guilt. (De Malo, q. 1, a. 5, ad 7)

After the remission of sin, punishment is needed for two ends: to settle the debt, and to provide a remedy (In IV Sent., dist. 20, q. 1, a. 2, qa. 1)

Punishment as salutary: healing evils or preventing them

Inasmuch as punishment is aimed at restraining or hindering evil, Aquinas describes punishment as medicinal or salutary, either for the wrongdoer himself, or at least for the larger community. In the best case, the punishment helps to rehabilitate the wrongdoer, training him to live justly as a member of the larger human community; in any case, it helps secure the community freedom from injustice by deterring subsequent crimes by the one guilty of wrongdoing or by others, whom the threat of punishment deters from such crimes; making the criminal incapable of committing further crimes by imprisonment, exile, removal of status or authority used to commit crimes, etc.

Punishment as retribution: balancing out the wrong done

Inasmuch as punishment is aimed at balancing the crime, by which an individual has exerted their will against the requirements of justice and the common good, with an imposition by the community of something contrary to his will, Aquinas describes punishment as vindictive, or retributive.

We have an intuitive feeling: one who has done wrong has harmed another person or the community, thereby deprived that person and the community of some good, and so owes them a debt; again, one way of (at least partially) resolving this debt is by "paying back" the evil to the wrongdoer.

Where is the justice in this "payback"? What distinguishes this "payback" from mere vengeance, or the notion that "two wrongs (i.e., a wrong done to the wrongdoer) make a right"?

St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

"The failing of a voluntary action is the essence (constituit rationem) of sin and guilt; the failing of any good imposed on someone contrary to the will of the one on whom it is imposed, is the essence of punishment. For punishment is imposed as a medicine for guilt, and as setting it in order. As medicine, inasmuch as man, by reason of punishment, is held back from guilt when, in order that he not suffer what is contrary to his will, he refrains from a disordered action that would otherwise please his will. It sets it in order, since by guilt man transgresses the limits of the natural order, giving more to his will than he ought. Hence he is led back to the order of justice by punishment, through which something is taken away from his will. From this it is evident that a fitting punishment is not given for guilt, unless the punishment is more contrary to the will than the guilt is pleasing. (Compendium theologiae, ch. 121)

A person who acts unjustly creates an inequality within the community, a disturbance of the order by which all members of the community are fundamentally equally ordered to the common good of the community as participants in it. The inequality consists in an excessive exertion of the wrongdoer's will against the order of natural or civil law by which the common good is preserved and promoted. Insofar as freedom is a good, this exercise of freedom freed from the demands of law, is a kind of advantage the wrongdoer has arrogated to himself in comparison with other citizens: he enjoys freedom and other common goods of the community preserved by the order of law, while not respecting the equal right of others under that law.

This inequality, consisting in the exertion of an individual's will against the demands of law and the common good, may be removed, and equality of all citizens with respect to the common good and the law restored, by the imposition, by a competent authority, on the wrongdoer of something contrary to his will.

Since the purpose of punishment is the re-establishment of equality before the law, punishment can only be imposed by one authorized to apply the law in the name of the community; such an authority may also declare, in a particular case, that punishment will not be imposed (amnesty), which insofar as it is a judgment made by a lawful authority for the common good, is in its own way equally a re-establishment of the order of justice.

Retribution is essential in constituting punishment

In order for punishment to be just, indeed, to be punishment in the strict sense, it must have an element of retribution. Civil authorities might come upon of the idea of deterring theft by taking some random person, whipping them publicly, and announcing, "this and ten times more will be done to anyone who commits theft". This, however, would not be punishment, but terrorizing, not a just subordination of individual good to the common good, but the instrumentalization of individuals for the state.

Healing or inhibition of evil is the principal goal of punishment in civil or human communities

Yet while retribution is necessary in order that punishment actually be punishment rather than merely a way of striking fear into the populace, it is not the principal goal. Aquinas holds the goal or purpose of punishments within civil communities (in contrast with punishment in purgatory or hell imposed by God as creator and ruler of the universe) to be a medicine for or to restrain sin.

  • Punishments are not directly intended by the legislator, but are medicines, as it were, for sin. And therefore the equitable person does not apply more pain than suffices for restraining sin. (Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics V, lectio 16)
  • The infliction of punishments should not be sought for its own sake, but punishments are inflicted as medicines for restraining sins. And thus they have the character of justice just insofar as they restrain sins. (ST (Summa Theologiae) II-II, q. 43, a. 7)
  • The punishments of this present life are more medicinal than retributive, for retribution is reserved for the divine judgment. (ST II-II, q. 66, a. 6)
  • The punishments of the present life are not sought for their own sake, because this is not the time of final retribution; but they are sought insofar as they are medicinal, aiding either the correction of the sinning person, or the good of the republic, whose tranquility is procured by the punishment of people who sin. (ST II-II, q. 68, a. 1)
  • Vengeance is done by inflicting something painful on the sinner. Therefore we must consider the mind of the avenger. If he intends principally evil for the one on whom he takes vengeance, and rests in that evil, vengeance is completely unlawful, since to delight in the evil of another person pertains to hatred, which is contrary to the charity by which we should love all men. Nor is someone excused, because he wills evil on someone who inflicted evil on him, just as one is not excused because he hates someone who hates him… but if the avenger principally looks to some good that is attained through punishing the sinner, e.g. his correction, or at least restraining him [from further sin] and quieting others, and the preservation of justice and the honor of God, vengeance can be licit, so long as the other suitable circumstances are present. (ST II-II, q. 108, a. 1)
  • Vengeance is licit and virtuous insofar as it tends to restrain evils. (ST II-II, q. 108, a. 3)
  • All mortal sinners are worthy of eternal death as regards the future retribution, which is according to the truth of the divine judgment. But the punishments in the present life are rather medicinal (than retributive). And therefore the death penalty is only inflicted for those sins that result in grave harm to others. (ST II-II, q. 108, a. 3, ad 2)

Consequently, to consider retribution alone, or to punish merely to "pay someone back" for a crime committed, is an insufficient reason to punish, and therefore to punish in this way would be unjust. Again, to impose a greater punishment than necessary in order to attain the goals of healing the evil, and/or preventing or restraining future evils, is inappropriate and therefore unjust.

The goals of punishment set certain limits to what punishment may be suitable and just for a given crime, but also provide guidelines: the suitable punishment will depend on the nature of the crime, how voluntary the crime was and how set the wrongdoer's will is on wrongdoing, how prone people in general are to such a crime, whether the deed tends to be attractive or abhorrent, etc. I will return to this point in a subsequent post.

(Update August 8, 2018: two more citations from St. Thomas Aquinas added)