A Catholic priest in Melbourne has caused outrage by asking people to show mercy towards paedophile priests in a primary school newsletter, comparing their treatment to that of adulterous women.
Parish priest Bill Edebohls said that the “baying crowd” of “media and the lawyers” who demonise paedophiles “don’t understand the need for a justice that is drenched in mercy”.
His words, given in a homily at St Mary’s church, in an eastern Melbourne suburb, were printed in full in the March newsletter of St Mary’s Primary School.
In Australia, an ongoing national inquiry, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, is investigating how churches, schools and sports clubs deal with instances and allegations of sexual abuse.
It was established in 2013 after reports emerged of serial child abuse inside the country’s Catholic Church.
Rev Edebohls said he was concerned that the Royal Commission may “gain justice for the victims but they will be denied healing,” due to a lack of “justice with mercy”.
To make his point, Rev Edebohls recalled the well-known biblical story in which Jesus says “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone”.
But he said that for modern readers to understand the “real drama and effect of the story,” the adulterous women who Jesus shows mercy towards should be replaced by a paedophile priest.
Rev Edebohls said that adultery is no longer widely regarded as a sin, as “the media dish adultery up night after night as playful entertainment”.
Parents at the school were taken aback by Rev Edebohls’s “shocking” attitude, according to The Age, a local Melbourne newspaper.
“The Royal Commission is investigating crimes, not sins,” Bernard Barrett from the victims support group Broken Rites told The Age.
“It is also investigating how these crimes have been tolerated or concealed in some organisations such as churches — and Father Edebohls' down-playing of these crimes is an example of this problem,” he said.
In February, Cardinal George Pell, a senior Vatican official and Pope Francis’s top financial adviser, said that the Catholic Church “has made enormous mistakes” in covering up the widespread sexual abuse of children by priests, while giving evidence to the Commission.
And last summer, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse uncovered more than 1,000 allegations of child sex abuse over more than 60 years by the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church.
The Catholic church in Melbourne has defended Rev Edebohls’s speech, calling it a “sermon of forgiveness” that only “lazy people” would misinterpret, according to The Guardian.
The Independent has contacted St Mary’s church, where Rev Edebohls is Head Priest, for comment.
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