Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
This is the final part of three that I've written on how to handle any abuse scandal (see parts one and two), and it will be short and to the point. We've reviewed the natural responses, the positive mindsets, and also discussed how to preemptively prepare for an imminent abuse case—whatever issue it might be—by being wholly grounded in your faith.
There is one remaining thing to discuss that that is the specific action to take when abuse scandals shake the faithful, and that is a form of communal penance.
In the same way and for the same reason the faithful pray together and celebrate together, the faithful should also seek penance together.
You won't find this in other religions or Christian denominations. In general, people don't enjoy suffering for the sins of others. The only place I can imagine this exists is in the military, where, when one gets in trouble, everyone gets in trouble. As a veteran, I can tell you that that fact is awful sometimes, but it serves a critical purpose: better accountability, and more responsible soldiers. The Catholic Church needs the same, so the recipe is the same. The same ways we seek penance as individuals, we can seek penance as a body. Here are some suggestions:
- Praying the Rosary – and for families, to pray the Rosary as a family.
- Practicing a Friday penance like abstaining from meat and one other additional act of fasting
- Fast for one whole day, maybe once a week if you can.
- Spending an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
- Praying the Divine Mercy chaplet — again, as a family, if possible.
However you respond to an abuse scandal is up to you, but the one thing that will help the future of the Body of Christ is offering up your suffering for the benefit of others. When one person sins, it affects us all — and so, when one person does penance, it affects us all.