Here in Australia during the past week we have been shocked or perhaps gladdened that Cardinal Pell, prominent in the Vatican, has been remanded for trial over historical sexual accusations. As I watched the news screen, I saw him being hassled out of the court with crowds pushing around him. I was reminded of the many paintings of Christ being similarly hassled by crowds as He walked carrying His cross. He was said to be taking on the sins of the world.
In a recent book, “Sinning Across Spain”, Ailsa Piper writes of her strange mission that she took on as she walked the Camino de Santiago trail. She advertised for people weighed down with a sin, to pay her (for a charity) to carry their sins on this trail. The St James Shell is a symbol of the route. Historically, it has been designated as a pilgrimage walk to atone for sins:
In the registers of the Inquisition at Carcassone…we find the four following places noted as being the centres of the greater pilgrimages to be imposed as penances for the graver crimes: the tomb of the Apostles at Rome, the shrine of St. James at Compostella [sic], St. Thomas’ body at Canterbury, and the relics of the Three Kings at Cologne. (Wikipedia)
The length of the trail depends on the starting point – possibly over 600 kms.
I wondered how many kilometres Cardinal Pell would need to walk to take on the sins of the many clergy who abused children around the globe. He would need to circumnavigate the whole world many, many times. How many times would be enough to help save the souls of the perpetrators? And how many for the souls of those that did nothing to stop them?
But then, what good would this do? Nothing for the children. There can be no adequate compensation for the breach of trust, for the fear, for the pain, for the shame, for the ruin of relationships and lives. Money is not a compensation. But it can be a symbol – of guilt and of acknowledgement. It can be a tangible end to many lifetimes of questions and no adequate answers. At the very least it can provide a moment or two of physical comfort. Do not deny these wronged people this minimal response.