The Catholic church in Melbourne has defended comments by a parish priest that likened paedophile priests to biblical adulterers as an “excellent homily” and said only “lazy people” would interpret it as equating an extramarital affair with paedophilia.
The homily, delivered by Father Bill Edebohls at St Mary’s church East Malvern on Palm Sunday and reprinted in full in the newsletter of the adjacent Catholic primary school, as it is every week, replaced the adulterous woman shown mercy by Jesus in a gospel story with a priest accused of paedophilia.
“Maybe to get the real drama and effect of the story we ought to replace the adulterous woman with a paedophile priest,” Edebohls said. “Then we might begin to understand the mob eager to stone and the outrageous and profligate mercy and compassion of God ever ready to forgive.”
The full homily, seen by Guardian Australia, speaks of the need to separate the sin from the sinner, arguing the church should be “a community free from legalism or justice without mercy” before drawing the parallel.
It goes on to speak of Edebohl’s concern with the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, which in recent months has seen the most senior Australian member of the Catholic church, Cardinal George Pell, questioned for four nights in Rome.
His concern, he said, was that victims would be “denied healing” because the media and lawyers did not understand the need for mercy, and said there was a risk Catholics could join “the pharisaic mob baying for a justice bathed in vengeance and condemnation rather than mercy”.
“That does not mean there is no condemnation of the sin, no punishment or consequences for the perpetrator or an institution that protected him,” he said.
“But it does mean justice with mercy ... Condemnation alone leaves the person with their sin with no way out, so nothing is lost by repeat offences.”
Shane Healy, media and communications director for the Catholic archdiocese of Melbourne, said the comparison between the woman in the gospel story and a paedophile priest was only intended to “take a story of 2,000 years ago and give it a modern context.”
“It’s absolutely a sermon of forgiveness,” he said. “I just don’t see how anyone could read it and have any other interpretation at all.”
Healy said Edebohls was “absolutely not” comparing paedophilia to adultery, but that “lazy people who didn’t go to the trouble of reading the thing fully might very well land there”.
“He has produced this excellent homily, it’s excellent.” he said. “He is not saying it’s the same thing at all … I think he had to talk about what he thought at the moment was the most serious crime around.”
Edebohls, who did not respond to media calls, penned a short explanatory note that was sent home to parents of St Mary’s primary school on Friday, Healy said.