Public penance and public reparation

The other day, Archbp. Vigano, bless him, issued a public letter in which he calls for disgraced Theodore McCarrick publicly to repent.

I have on various occasions opined that bishops should prostrate themselves in the steps of their cathedrals in public reparation.

Public penance and public reparation was once a regular practice in the Church.

An example of these public rites can be read about – fascinating – at Liturgical Arts Journal today. Shawn Tribe recounts the rites in the 17th and 18th century in the Diocese of Rouen.

He has an extract of the Grand Penitentiary of Rouen in 1673. The rites are described. There are great old etchings of moments of the rites. The prayers and symbolic gestures are beautiful. Note the significance of the candles.

I am not sure that we need public rites for penitents, even for truly serious sins of a public nature. I’m also not saying that we don’t! However, I think I would support public acts of reparation.

Meanwhile, everyone….


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Bellarmino Vianney says:

    McCarrick should indeed publicly repent for the most grave evils that he has done – up to and including whatever he was involved with at the last conclave. And it is true that the salvation of his soul may depend up such public repentance.

    At the same time, though, Archbishop Vigano (assuming the authenticity of the letter) could have easily privately asked McCarrick to publicly repent…without publicizing the request for him to publicly repent. The public request from Archbishop Vigano seems to be a bit strange – considering the fact that it is pretty much assumed, without Archbishop Vigano’s previous public letter, that McCarrick should publicly repent.

    This recent public letter made Archbishop Vigano appear to be seeking publicity, and that only adds fuel to the opposition which thinks he is merely seeking publicity. His previous letters were necessary to be made public. His recent public letter seems to damage his own reputation.

  2. scholastica says:

    The Bishop of Richmond, H. E. Barry Knestout, did in fact prostrate before the altar at the beginning of a Mass of Reparation in August. I wasn’t there, but heard it was prolonged and quite moving.

  3. LeeGilbert says:

    Bear with me here . . .Years ago I was friends with an Irish priest, a missionary retired from work in Nigeria. In the course of going out to dinner with him he told me he had taken the pledge, but I was too young to know what that was. Reading between the lines-justifiably I think- he had taken the pledge not to drink alcohol ever as reparation for the sins of those who had abused alcohol in his home country, and also as a witness that it was possible to go through life without imbibing.

    Fast forward to 2019. I have read through maybe five of the files of abusive priests, and know of two other cases as well, where alcohol was definitely a factor in the abuse. Nothing would surprise me less than that it was a factor in every single case. No doubt, it was a very helpful tool in accomplishing the seduction of many victims. Yet, I have yet to encounter anyone who has drawn attention to this.

    Maybe I am wrong, but my guess is that drinking is a very big part both of priestly culture and of seminary culture. I wonder if a teetotaller could make it through the sem without being dismissed as too rigid, or puritanical. Without drinking could a priest comfortably fraternize with fellow priests? Maybe, but I doubt it. As Bennett Cerf said in his poem” Icebreakers” “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”

    If someone says that liquor was simply a tool which a bad priest used to further his lustful goals, that the real problem is homosexuality, no doubt homosexuality is a problem, but if clerical drinking culture creates the atmosphere in which that form of lust is ignited and indulged, then is that not sufficient argument for the entire presybyterate to take the pledge?

    For me at least, it seems very naive to think that McCarrick and bishops and priests with similar moral failings doing public penance is anything like adequate to redress the moral balance. It is nowhere near enough to regain the trust of our fellow countrymen. We need to discover and adopt whatever may be the modern equivalent of sackcloth and ashes.

    Yet, even though some of our fellow Catholics have gone to sybaritic extremes, moderation in all things will ever be our watchword lest we get carried away with extreme penance en masse. Yet, if one fantasizes a little bit, there seems little doubt that many priests taking the pledge, and many Catholic families throwing the secular media out of their homes-TV , for example- would go a long way toward bearing witness that we have begun to repent. Whatever we do, it should be onerous enough to make God and man take notice that we have in fact repented, for these disgraced priests have spring from our lassitude.

    And there should be accompanying ceremonies.

  4. Gab says:

    Viganò’s public letter was excellent. It served a good purpose to remind and encourage others in similar situation as McCarrick to do the right thing. And after all the years of abuse being reported time and time and time again I believe the time has now passed for private letters. As if McCarrick would Take any notice of private letters anyway.

  5. Hidden One says:

    Abp. Vigano’s latest letter is authentic. The journalists have done their due diligence and Abp. Vigano sent it to more journalists than he sent the first one. For example, he emailed it directly to Robert Moynihan.

    If you yourself think that Abp. Vigano released the new letter just to attract attention to himself, please just say as much.

  6. Bellarmino Vianney says:

    This commentator was not suggesting he Archbishop Vigano is seeking attention. This commentator believes he is authentic and genuinely concerned about the salvation of souls and the good of the Church.

    And, indeed, there are many others – likely up to and including fraudulent persons in so-called “law enforcement” – that should publicly repent and repair the grave damage they have done to others.

    This is particularly true for law enforcement personnel that have falsely accused – repeat, falsely accused – harassed, intimidated, and unlawfully surveilled innocent persons (including this commentator, who has written previously of such likely harassment, intimidation, unlawful surveillance, etc., which likely stems from false accusations and/or retaliation for privately and publicly criticizing liberalism, liberal bishops, priests, homosexuals, anti-Christian political sects, etc.)

    That was a bit of a tangent but is increasingly relevant – see: FBI abuses FISA warrant. Also, see the alarming use of “otherwise illegal activity” by so-called FBI informants. Catholics should be concerned with such abuses and serious crimes – particularly because certain Catholics are overly trusting law enforcement with the current serious evils ongoing within the Church. Remember, Satan is cunning, and remember, there are many enemies of the Church within the U.S. government.

    But, regarding Archbishop Vigano, the last public letter will add fuel to the fire of the opposition, because calls for public repentance need not be public. An invitation to public repentance is much different than his public whistle-blowing against McCarrick, Wuerl, PF, et. al. That public whistle-blowing was necessary, while public calls to repentance are unnecessary.

    This commentator fully supports the work of Archbishop Vigano, and that is why this commentator does not want him to harm his own cause by doing unnecessary things.

  7. SKAY says:

    I agree Gab. I think that Archbishop Vigano has done exactly the right thing. A private letter would do nothing. These guilty men have done untold damage to the Church, their victims and the many good priests who are guilty of nothing but are lumped into all of this by so many. They don’t seem to care.

  8. OrdinaryCatholic says:

    Ever since the first abuse stories began to surface in the ’80s and until only recently I have always wondered why the majority of bishops/priests never called a spade a spade when being asked about the sexual abuse by fellow priests. The abuses were considered misjudgements, lapses in conscience, moments of weakness, uncharitable behavior, failure to protect the innocent etc… but never called it for what it was: SIN. All my life (66) I have been taught by MY Church and it’s priests and bishops that sex outside of marriage was sinful. That it was a MORTAL sin. Be it masturbation, fornication, adultery…and then when it comes to one of their own…crickets. Yes, I am speaking in generalities here but really, where were those early voices calling these abuses a mortal sin? Finally, publicly and universally we have an Archbishop, Vigano, doing and saying exactly what should have been done and said so long ago to all the abusers in the clergy. Thank you Archbishop. May God be with you.

  9. Liz says:

    We pray for Archbishop Vigano in our daily prayers, often by name (along with Cardinals Sarah, Burke, Pell, and Brandmueller). I think of him and pray for him frequently at adoration and/light candles for him etc. I hope he knows he is supported “out here.” May his reward be great in heaven!

  10. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    Since everyone sins, I am surprised that public pence is not done more often. Especially when the sin is public. In fact even Vigano. If you knew and said nothing you are in a way complisied. I keep hearing everyone knew. Then everyone needs to come forward do public pence.

  11. Semper Gumby says:

    Bellarmino Vianney wrote:

    “… there are many enemies of the Church within the U.S. government.”

    There are also many enemies of the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Government within the Church.

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