Like Jesus, the Church never rejects a contrite heart. Divine mercy is atthe heart of the Gospel. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy”), speaks of Christ as the “incarnation of mercy ... the inexhaustible source of mercy”(par. 8). He emphasizes that “Christ’s messianic program, the program of mercy” must be “the program of His people, the program of the Church.” (par. 8). “The Church, writes Pope John Paul II, “must consider it one of her principal duties – at every stage of history and especially in our modern age – to proclaim and to introduce into life the mystery of mercy supremely revealed in Jesus Christ.” (par. 14).
When Jesus taught about the mercy of God, people were scandalized. In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son was angry with his father for celebrating the return of the younger, prodigal son. In the parable of the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in the flock to search out the one who is lost; having found him he rejoices. When the crowd was ready to stone to death the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” The scandal of mercy challenges the world’s notion of retribution and offers a different perspective on sin, grace, and redemption.
No sin, no matter how grave, cannot be forgiven. No forgiven sin, no matter how grave, renders a priest unfit to continue as a priest.
In Pope John Paul II’s remarks to the meeting of Cardinals on April 23, 2002, he said: “There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young.” But he also said, “At the same time ... we cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the depths of a person’s soul and can work extraordinary change.”
If a priest has committed the sin of sexual abuse of a minor and has been rehabilitated, his bishop has a number of ways of ensuring that the priest does not present a danger to minors. The priest can be assigned to a ministry in which he is not working with minors. If circumstances indicate that the priest could return to parish ministry, a system of monitoring could be put in place. If a repentant priest has a diagnosed psychological problem, which would create a danger to children, his bishop could invoke canon 1044 §2, 2° to declare that the priest is impeded from the exercise of his orders for as long as the priest suffers from this psychiatric illness.
Minors would be at greater risk if the Church laicizes a priest who is guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor. If a priest is laicized, he is thrust back into society without the safeguards, spiritual help and human support which the Church should provide.