Priests such as the Rev. Thomas DeVita, who (according to The New York Times) abused a teen-age altar boy in Long Island back in 1978. Confessed, repented, sought treatment, and went on to be a real priest. In New Buffalo, Mich., where Father DeVita rebuilt a failing parish church and school into a vital Catholic community, parishioners are aghast at the sentence that now befalls him. "You think people would get over it by now," said one parishioner. Get over it. Act like it never happened. That is some people's idea of forgiveness. Not Father DeVita's. He says he hopes his removal will be a "lesson to future priests to never compromise on their blessed calling. The cloud over the church these last six months can now pass on and the sun can shine again."
The Catholic Church is ancient, and does not always fit well into the latest ideas of a disposable, market-based, not to mention a fundamentally Protestant, society. The priesthood is not a job; it is a transforming vocation. Once ordained, a priest cannot be fired for bad conduct any more than -- in the Catholic vision -- a marriage can be ended simply for bad behavior. An adulterous spouse is still your spouse. A priest is always a priest -- even defrocked. The bishops do not have the power to strip from him his ability to perform the sacraments. But surely a priest who still owes allegiance to the church (having surrendered family, marriage and money for its sake) is far more likely to obey a bishop's command to cease wearing the collar, or saying Mass, than an aging priest thrown onto the street -- and (incidentally) most likely onto the taxpayers' dime.
If my son (God forbid) abused a child, I would turn him in without hesitation. When he emerged from jail, I would do what I could to see that he never had a chance to harm another child. But no matter how ashamed, would I refuse to help him? If he were struggling to do and be good, would I watch him starve? Of course not. It is not a mother's job to perpetually punish her children.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.