As we hear news that the New York attorney general is opening an investigation into all Catholic dioceses in the state, and that New Jersey will soon be making a similar announcement, I think it could be worthwhile to consider how the Church used to deal with the sexual deviants in its ranks. Obviously, its modern strategy has been to ignore the problem, cover it up, downplay it, and rationalize it. This has brought about the results any rational person would expect.
But once all of the dirty and terrible truths have been dragged into the light, and all of the predators and cover-up artists have been exposed, what can the Church do differently to prevent a renewed proliferation of sexual sin and degeneracy? For the solution, we need only turn to St. Basil the Great, a 4th century bishop and Doctor of the Church. This was his prescription:
Any cleric or monk who seduces young men or boys, or who is apprehended in kissing or in any shameful situation, shall be publicly flogged and shall lose his clerical tonsure. Thus shorn, he shall be disgraced by spitting in his face, bound in iron chains, wasted by six months of close confinement, and for three days each week put on barley bread given him toward evening. Following this period, he shall spend a further six months living in a small segregated courtyard in custody of a spiritual elder, kept busy with manual labor and prayer, subjected to vigils and prayers, forced to walk at all times in the company of two spiritual brothers, never again allowed to associate with young men.
To review, St. Basil’s recommendations followed these six steps:
1) Shave the offender’s head.
2) Publicly beat him.
3) Bind him in chains and spit on him.
4) Confine him for six months and allow him only to eat bread three times a week.
5) Sentence him to another six months of manual labor and intense spiritual direction.
6) Forbid him from ever again having unsupervised interactions with boys or young men.
Ideally, the child rapists would not need to be dealt with this way because they would be turned over to civil authorities and put in prison. But those who have engaged in deviant sexual behavior that would not be considered a crime by law, or that cannot be prosecuted for whatever reason, should be subjected to The St. Basil Solution (as I will now call it). The two priests in Chicago who were arrested for performing sex acts on each other in public should be the first to the flogging post.
Of course I realize this will never happen. The current pope would be more likely to chain and flog priests who forget to recycle than priests who have sex on a city street in broad daylight. But perhaps we can look at these old school methods of justice and learn a thing or two. Primarily, we can learn that Christians need not be limp, pathetic, little weaklings in the face of evil. It is okay, even necessary, to meet evil with sternness and force. Sin should be punished and obliterated — not, as Pope Francis likes to say, “accompanied.”
But I will be told that Christians have moved past the ferocity and intolerance of the Middle Ages. Indeed we have. Now maybe it’s time we take a few steps back toward it.