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The Pastoral Problem of Priests in Prison

Sexual abuse is a horrific crime. Sex-abuser priests, especially pedophile priests, are criminals of the lowest order. They should be punished as such.

Sex-abuser priests have indeed squandered their inheritance. But the tried-and-found-guilty priest, especially the defrocked priest in prison, presents a unique pastoral problem. It is a problem that led Charlene C. Duline to wonder, “Does the Catholic Church remember its fallen priests who molested children and are now serving time in prison?” (National Catholic Reporter, July 20, 2007).

Duline was herself a victim, as a child, of sexual abuse by a priest. “Rape,” she says, “is a vile, violent act. I weep for the children who were abused by priests. I know their pain.” Yet, over time, she has come to “feel sorry for these fallen priests, despite the desire for revenge that still burns deep in my heart.” And she “wondered if our church ministered to them in any form.”

So she went searching for imprisoned sex-abuser priests, to find out about their state in life. “Most of the priests I heard from indicated that they had no access to Catholic chaplains or materials.” Many of the priests told her of being constantly mistreated by other inmates. “From the start,” said one, “I was subjected to foul comments and slurs related to my crime of indecent liberties with a minor.” (Indecent liberties? That’s putting it rather mildly, and goes a long way to uncovering the attitude many sex-abuser priests have toward their soul-murdering crimes.) “I’ve had feces spread on my blanket and pillowcase, etc. Sex offenders are at the bottom of the ladder in prison.”

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