"I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life."
(concluding words of the Act of Contrition)
Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia, convicted of child endangerment by a dutiful and fair-minded jury, argued for probation. His lawyer said prison would be cruel and unusual punishment for his crimes. Shouldn’t his spiritual friends tell him that churchmen should be kneeling in the snows of Canossa in penance before civil authorities for their crimes against both church and civil law?
Monsignor Lynn should accept his sentence of three to six years as a small payment for his failure to live up to the honorific title the Church assigned him. The judge was absolutely correct that Lynn turned over the souls of children to monsters. The silence from churchmen, the Catholic press, and blogosphere is deafening. We all know that to encourage this act of justice would indict priests and bishops across the orthodox/progressive divide. It will take a true metanoia for Catholic clerical and intellectual leadership to humbly learn from this implacable hand of civic justice.
The first fruit of the Philly sentencing could be an act of leadership which would cost a lot less than three years imprisonment. What if Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge against him and volunteered for jail time “in reparation for my wrongdoing”?
Bishop Finn could say: “Take me, and leave the diocese alone. The good parishioners have done no wrong and owe no fine, but I did not do my duty. Our Mother Church is pure; it is I who have sinned. Take me and leave the Lady.” He should not resign. He should repent, and do penance.
Bishop Finn and Monsignor Lynn are the first of many Catholic clerics who will be faced with civic punishment – not for what they have done, but for what they have failed to do. At every Mass, we confess such sins are real. Shouldn’t our shepherds – who have shown us how to sin – now show us how to repent and do penance?
This is not Martin Luther King in a Birmingham jail. The convicted priests and bishops are much more like the thieves at Calvary being justly punished for their crimes. Which thief will they imitate?