By Sister Clare Boehmer, ASC

I was thinking and praying that something good would come of Pope Francis’ Feb. 21-24 summit on clergy sexual abuse.

Then I read an opinion piece that said the “Wrath of God” will be visited upon perpetrators. Not exactly the compassionate, healing response I had hoped for.

I wanted to hear that summit participants had put in place a process for reconciliation to heal perpetrators, victims, and the Church as a whole. I was hoping we could move beyond retribution to reconciliation.

Retribution is a legitimate and appropriate response to the sex abuse scandal, but not an adequate one. Retribution, defined as punishment or vengeance for a wrong or criminal act, includes legal measures by civil and church authorities. While that is a necessary step, it doesn’t necessarily result in healing. That requires reconciliation.

The healing of reconciliation involves action from all levels of the church.

It requires hierarchy to put into place a process to help perpetrators and their victims work toward reconciliation. It asks clergy in parishes to listen compassionately to the legitimate feelings of anger, betrayal, and disillusionment of Catholics, and provide pastoral care to those who are suffering because of the widespread scandal.

We people in the pews also have a role to play in achieving reconciliation. It’s natural to be scandalized and disturbed by the betrayal of our trust on the part of some of the clergy. But we cannot allow ourselves to get stuck there, lest we allow the perpetrators to violate us too. Evil will beget more evil.

Each of us needs to do whatever we can to move beyond a desire for retribution, to take our disgust and anger to prayer and ask God for help in knowing what we need to do to move beyond these feelings.

Eventually, each of us can come to the point of realizing that we cannot do this alone. This is the time, then, to let go of our need to “make things right,” to move on from our time of mourning the loss of what we perceived as an innocence and integrity in our clergy.

This is the time to ask God to do what we cannot do and to trust that indeed He will. Only then can we move beyond our desire for retribution and into the freedom of reconciliation.