St. Thomas and an Accusation

st-thomas-aq

St. Thomas Aquinas died on March 7, 1274, in an abbey about 60 miles southeast of Rome. We usually keep the saints’ feast days on the anniversaries of their deaths. March 7, however, almost always falls within Lent, which would get in the way of feasting.

Almost 100 years after Thomas’ death, the pope decided to move the saint’s remains to the mother church of Thomas’ religious order (the Dominicans), located in Toulouse, France. At the time, the pope himself lived in France, in Avignon.

The 1,200 mile procession with St. Thomas’ relics concluded like this, according to the secretary to the Master General of the Dominicans at the time:

On Sunday, January 28, the sacred body was carried to a certain small chapel, according to the command of our Lord Pope Urban V… There were over 10,000 torches and 150,000 people… This ceremony was such a solemn event that a comparable ceremony had not been seen for a century in the city of Toulouse.

Couvent des Jacobins de Toulouse - Autel de St Thomas d'Aquin
Tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas, Toulouse, France

…The second part of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica considers human decision-making and morals. The second part of that second part explains the particular virtues, including, of course, justice.

Part of the section on justice covers the business of crime and punishment. Question 68, article 1, poses the question: Does someone who knows about a crime have the duty to denounce the criminal?

St. Thomas says Yes, basing his answer on Leviticus 5:1, which says that a witness to a crime becomes complicit if he says nothing. St. Thomas’ words explaining his answer ring across the centuries:

In the case of a crime that causes injury to the community–bodily or spiritual corruption in the community–a man is bound to accuse the criminal, provided he can offer sufficient proof.

There’s more. St. Thomas considers this objection:

Subjects should not accuse their superiors, nor persons of lower degree accuse those of higher degree.

The saint answers the objection like this:

Subjects are debarred from accusing superiors, if it is not the affection of charity but their own wickedness that leads them to defame and disparage the conduct of their superiors. But if the subject can prove the accusation, it is lawful for subjects to accuse their superiors out of charity.

So I accuse the Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy of continuing injustice towards the survivors of sexual abuse. The hierarchy continues to operate according to this principle, if you can call it a principle:

Sexual abuse is a shameful private matter that should be kept from the public eye. If people know that clergymen have committed this crime, they will lose the faith. Therefore, it should be hushed up, at any cost.

First let me mention two fundamental problems with this idea.

Problem 1. This modus operandi condemns sex-abuse survivors to a life in the shadows. Also, it endangers other possible victims. Sexual abuse is not a purely private matter. It causes “corruption in the community,” as St. Thomas put it.

The peaceful stability of any community depends on criminal justice. Criminals must be publicly tried and convicted of their crimes, and punished accordingly. The victim of a crime is certainly not to blame for the crime and should not bear any shame for having suffered such victimization. Secrecy about a crime protects the criminal.

Problem 2. Catholics have not, in fact, lost faith en masse because priest-criminals exist. There are hundreds of thousands of priests on earth, and thousands of bishops–some of them are bound to be criminals. That fact does not, in and of itself, scandalize the faithful–using “scandalize” here in the strict sense of damaging or destroying someone’s holy faith.

What has scandalized, and continues to scandalize, the Catholic faithful is: the systematic cover-up of crimes committed by clergymen, a cover-up orchestrated by the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

I will demonstrate that this incorrect and cruel principle does, in fact, guide the current Catholic hierarchy, in subsequent posts covering these two instances:

1. The leaked transcript of the Kenneth Feinberg conference call with upstate New York dioceses in December 2017.

2. The final disposition of the Bishop Joseph Hart ecclesiastical criminal case.

Stay tuned.