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Good Morning Nanty Glo!
            Monday, Movember 3 2003 

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Forgiveness; innocence

Last Wednesday's and Friday's posts addressed a question by a couple of members of the list concerning our forgiveness and God's forgiveness of persons guilty of seemingly unforgiveable offenses. Held over because it was too complicated for treatment in those posts was this additional question:

A man who spent his life serving God and the church is now, at the age of 70, convicted of downloading child pornography. The case has been reported on in the Tribune-Democrat in recent weeks. The man is Father Elwood Figurelle. I knew him when he was pastor of my wife's family's home church, St. Michael Catholic Church in St. Michael. While there, he restored both the church edifice and enlarged the congregation. He also rebuilt a parsonage that had been neglected for years into a showpiece. He also landscaped the church property and restored the church cemetery so that it provides a dignified final resting place. Through these efforts and many others, he brought new life into a dying congregation. Now, I wonder about his status when he passes from this life. He did a lot of good but in the end he disappointed and embarrassed his family and the church community. As far as I know, he didn't molest any children but he did encourage the abuse of children by accepting the child pornography.

Though I would decline to attempt to pass judgment on this or any other individual (as that has not been given us mortals to do in non-judicial roles), his case can be used to ask what punishments fit such crimes, and what exigencies may be sufficient to warrant mercy, what kind of mercy, and whether forgiveness can ever be appropriate.

First, the crime and the sin. The possession of child pornography is always illegal (so far as I know, speaking as an amateur in legal matters) in the United States and other (I'd assume most) countries, because it is on its surface proof that a child or multiple children have been raped in order to obtain the photographs in question. Adult sexual activity with underage individuals is by definition "rape," statutorily, in this country, and the encouragement of sexual activity between several members of the same age group is also tantamount to rape, even if force is not used (but rather "persuasion" or even some form of payment is made for "co-operating").

The most notorious of the priests exposed in the past several years as perpetrators of child sexual abuse (I believe it was the one recently murdered in a Massachusetts prison by an irate inmate) actually offered the "defense" that some children want sexual initiation and are the seducers of their abusers; this class of abusers sometimes claim that they are even helping the children through an important life passage. Though I find it believeable that children may sometimes desire the satisfaction of their own prurient curiosity, the point of its being unambiguously unlawful in civilized society is that, by virtue of their status as children (defined legally as younger than the age of consent for sexual activity, 18 in the United States) they are being robbed of innocence, of whatever is left of their childhood. Many states even prohibit persons under the age of consent to legally marry because it is assumed they are not ready for such adult decisions.

Western societies generally prohibit the sexual exploitation or abuse of children, though I think there is a tendency to permit more forms of it under the guise of liberalizing society. For example, the PG-13 and R ratings in the movies were designed to defend children from sexual verbal assault, the theory being that though their physical virginity may not be threatened by obscene speech, their innocence of mind and conscience can thus be assaulted. Though the movie industry continues to display ratings that discourage adults from taking children to some kinds of movies, it would seem that few adults prohibit young teenagers from listening to obscene music lyrics, sexually explicit music videos, and there seems to be general acceptance of public obscene speech on the streets. I haven't seen any studies of this, but I have the impression that most children have access to R-rated movies via tapes and DVDs in their homes, and if not in their own homes, in those of friends. I have seen anecdotal testimony that many also see "adult" videos through the latter type of access. School sex education as early as the young elementary grades is also frequently faulted for robbing children of their childhood innocence, and there are frequent reports of sexual liaisons between teachers and students.

As to the punishment for those who abuse children, there is only one strong point made in the Gospels clearly relating to it, but it is repeated in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Matthew's wording is: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

I suppose there could be mitigating circumstances in anyone's life to cause him to turn to child pornography, especially if there was no record of actual abuse. (I suspect the psychiatrists would explore the experiences in the subject's own childhood, and consider something like arrested development, meaning that even a 70-year-old may still be a child in some senses.) But I wouldn't want the assigment of being an advocate of such a person's case before the divine court of justice.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Fun facts (or "facts," so it says, but take with a grain)

All of the clocks in the movie Pulp Fiction are stuck on 4:20.

On a Canadian two-dollar bill, the flag flying over the Parliament Building is an American flag.

—Sent by Trudy Myers 

Thought for today

With death all will be taken from us: all earthly goods, riches, beauty of body and raiment, spacious dwelling, etc., but the virtue of the soul, that incorruptible raiment, shall remain with us eternally.

— St. John of Kronstadt
Sent by Fr. Antonious Henein

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