Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cardinal Bernard Law, Saint Maria Goretti, and the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal: Would Saint Maria Goretti forgive a priest who put his penis in a child's rectum? Would she forgive an archbishop who protected child rapists?

The Story of Saint Maria Goretti: Virgin Martyr

Saint Maria Goretti, a virgin saint of the 20th century, died on July 6, 1902, murdered by Alessandro Serenelli, who had tried to rape her. Maria fought off Serenelli's sexual advances, but he stabbed her 14 times.  She did not die immediately; she lived about 20 hours. And before she died, Maria forgave Alessandro and expressed the wish that she would meet him in Paradise. She was only 11 years old.

Alessandro was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was initially unrepentant, but Maria appeared to Alessandro in a dream while he was sleeping in his prison cell. In that dream, Maria offered Alessandro 14 candles as a symbol of her forgiveness--one candle for each stab wound.  He then repented his terrible crime and became a different man.

After 27 years, Alessandro was released from prison. He became a Franciscan lay brother and died at the age of 87. He was still alive when Maria was canonized in 1950.

Would Saint Maria Goretti forgive Catholic priests who raped children?

A few days ago, I visited the Shrine of St. Maria Goretti, which is located in Nettuno, Italy, not far from Rome. I found myself pondering what Saint Maria's views might have been about the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal. She is the patron saint of rape victims, but she is also the patron saint of forgiveness. Would Maria Goretti forgive the Catholic priests who rammed their penises into the rectums of little boys? Would she forgive the bishops and church administrators who shielded child abusers from prosecution--evil men who introduced little children to oral sex?

Would she forgive Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston, who covered up a massive sexual abuse scandal in his archdiocese and allowed predatory priests to have access to children? Would she forgive the lawyers who effectuated Cardinal Law's cover-up by drafting confidential settlement agreements? Would she forgive the psychiatrists who got paid to treat abusive priests and who certified that these priests were cured of their sexual pathologies?

Almost all the abusive priests were serial abusers. They raped a lot of boys, and they raped them multiple times. Would Maria forgive a priest who raped a little boy more than once? A priest who raped a lot of boys? Would she forgive Cardinal Law for every priest he protected?

Perhaps she would. But I think she would expect these sinners to make some act of penance. Alessandro, after all, spent 27 years in jail and lived a holy life after he was released.

But Cardinal Law is in Rome. In fact, he may have passed me in the streets of the Vatican last week. Perhaps he was among the VIPs who motored by me in their black luxury cars with tinted glass, accompanied by their smartly dressed body guards. The cardinal may have passed me as he was going to dinner at one of Rome's fine restaurants.

Perhaps Maria Goretti has forgiven Cardinal Law and all the bishops who closed their eyes to child rape. But I doubt it; I seriously doubt it.


For other commentary on Cardinal Bernard Law or the sex abuse scandal, see these sources:

Abuse Enableng Bishops Who Were Resigned or Removed. Accessible at

Rev. Kenneth Doyle. How Can the Catholic Church Allow Bernard Law To Remain a Priest? Crux, December 14, 2015.  .Accessible at

Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests.  Web site:
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