According to the Catholic Church, there are four aspects of forgiving sins. Confession, penance and absolution are the easy ones. Contrition is hard.

Contrition is not saying what you did wrong. It’s knowing in your heart that you did wrong, and resolving to do better. The church needs contrition.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a grand jury report that detailed sexual abuse by scores by priests and laity in dioceses across the state going back to the 1940s.

It detailed grooming abuse and identifying them with gold crosses, and Shapiro told of a priest who impregnated a minor, “married” and “divorced” her with a forged signature, and kept his collar.

The 800-page litany should have been absolutely unbelievable. It wasn’t. That was probably the most horrifying thing about it.

It was almost expected. It was the punchline to a joke every Catholic is tired of hearing. That exhaustion then leads to mortification, because just wanting the whole issue to go away is how we have gone 30, 40, 50, 70 years with unspeakable crimes wrapped in vestments and shoved in a confessional.

The church has to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. It isn’t the place of a bishop to decide when a crime has occurred. If someone stole the collection plate, the police would be called. If the rectory was on fire, someone would dial 911. Why not with sexual abuse?

The safety and security of our children is our greatest treasure, but apparently the church is run by bishops who place a greater value on men who have been caught time and again stealing innocence.

Every incident was an opportunity to do the right thing. Every time a new bishop donned his mitre was another chance to put the children and what was right both morally and legally ahead of criminals who just happened to be priests or deacons.

There are not enough candles to burn or Hail Marys to say to atone for the perpetual sorrow of this act of systemic, institutional abuse of power. But a little honest, heartfelt contrition would be a good start.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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