Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley. Wikimedia Commons

An Embrace that Heals Wounds

While the media focuses on the pedophilia scandal, Julián Carrón reminded us to go to the core of our needs. Cardinal O'Malley, Boston's Archbishop, discusses the meaning of this challenge for him, declaring “Only Christ gives us hope to start over.”
Lorenzo Albacete

He has a long white beard like most Capuchins, and blue eyes, reminiscent of his Irish origins. Sean Cardinal O’Malley, age 62, has guided one of the oldest–and in this decade the most troubled–American archdioceses since July 2003. From the day of his installment, O’Malley had clear in his mind that his priority was not to recuperate the image of the archdiocese, but “to continue the reconciliation process with those wounded, including everyone in the dialogue,” as he said in an interview in the Italian newspaper, Avvenire. For this reason, he visited all the parishes marked by abuse, personally meeting those who came forward as victims of this violence. While the attacks on the Church and Pope continue, we asked him to help judge this “heart-wrenching story” (as Carrón described it in his recent editorial for Traces, Vol. 12, No. 4, p.1).

The first question I have is–at least certainly what impressed me–is that Fr. Carrón in his article identifies the issue as one of justice. This is an issue that I have never thought of directly, that of a lack of justice, of everyone wanting a fulfillment of the desire for justice. So my question to you, as one who has so much experience in this area, is: How helpful do you think it is to understand how to respond to this crisis by seeing it as demonstrating what he calls an “inability to respond to the demands of justice which spring from the bottom of the heart”? Do you think his approach is helpful?
Yes, I do, because obviously a great injustice has been done to these children. They have lost their innocence, and it is aggravated by the fact that the one who violated them represented God and the transcendent for them, therefore not only damaging their psychological well being, but also damaging their spiritual life. My experience is that often these children who have been abused fall into one of two categories. Either they were from very devout Catholic families, very active in the parish, very close to the priest, or they were children from broken homes and in very vulnerable situations. In both of these cases, the abuse represented a terrible betrayal and therefore it certainly is a justice issue. This was compounded by the fact that–particularly in the days when the problem was the greatest and when the Church’s response was the worst–this aspect of the violation of the child, the injustice done to the child, was completely overlooked. The focus was on the perpetrator: how to punish or rehabilitate the perpetrator. The parallel has often been made with alcoholism, with the idea that this person goes into a program, gets his act together, and uses a little more willpower, and everything is going to be fine. But no one averted or realized or focused on the injustice and damage done to the children and their families. And of course there was this blanket of shame and secrecy that prevented people from discussing these things, and so the children were even further damaged because they couldn’t share this burden with anyone: they couldn’t turn even to their parents and get consolation or direction, but were left in the confusion and the pain of having been violated by the one who represented God for them.

Therefore, you do think this approach helps us understand what Fr. Carrón called “dissatisfaction, impatience, and even the disillusionment of the victims.”
Oh, yes, definitely. And I think that it also isn’t an antidote to those who just want to see this as simply a media attack on the Church. Fr. Carrón starts with the victims and their experience, what has happened to them, and what our response needs to be, vis-à-vis the experience of these victims and the damage done to them.

Another thing that struck me is his claim that, in a certain sense, both the victims and the abusers face the fact that “nothing can repair the damage that has been done… Even if they were to serve the maximum sentence” that civil law can provide, it would still leave that wound in them.
And in faith and in forgiveness and in God’s mercy is where we can move beyond that point. But if we don’t have that, then of course it is an incurable wound.

According to Fr. Carrón, the Pope’s understanding of the human heart’s infinite demand for justice that can only be satisfied in Christ, and by Christ, is what’s imbibing his own personal response to the crisis. Do you agree with this?
I do. I think that he has analyzed it very, very well, and has captured the essence of the Holy Father’s approach to this.

Carrón says that the Holy Father recognizes that the greatest danger we face in responding to this crisis is what he describes as “distancing Christ from the Church, as if the Church were too full of filth to be able to bear Him.” Fr. Carrón calls this the “Protestant temptation.” How does this correspond to your experience?
Well, we just had Mercy Sunday. The Risen Christ has come back to gather the scattered, to cure the wounds of sin, to assure us of God’s mercy, and to give us that hope that can be the basis for rebuilding after such catastrophic events in our lives.

In Boston, do you detect already a–I don’t know what to call it–a kind of movement, so to speak, in this direction, as people may be beginning to “rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one,” He being the only one able to cure the wounds that this has caused. Do you see movement in this direction?
I do, and I have met with hundreds of victims. During Holy Week, I even met with some victims who are very much reconciled to the Church and have found God’s mercy and strength in their pain. But the sad thing is that, each time this issue resurfaces, it, in many ways, re-victimizes people. That’s the sad thing. And so we hope that each time that it does come up, it is taken as a moment of recommitment to working for healing, and to continuing to assure people that the safety of children is paramount for us in the Catholic Church.