Father Tony

We Can Forgive, But Can We Forget?

Filed By Father Tony | March 18, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living

In the video included in this New York Times report, listen to the voices of the pope promising a pastoral letter about pedophilia to be issued tomorrow and that of the Irish cardinal apologizing for what he did wrong.

In a brilliant move on the chessboard of Catholic Church politics, Cardinal Sean Brady, the Primate of All Ireland, has, on St. Patrick's Day, asked forgiveness for personally botching the management of pedophilia and said that he will resign only if the Pope asks him to do so.

This is a brilliant move because if the Pope doesn't ask him to resign, it will deflect responsibility, bouncing it back to Rome and making Benedict look arrogant and anti-victimish. If the Pope does ask him to resign, his own performance as Archbishop of Munich would be grounds for his own resignation. Damned if he does....

Let's talk about forgiveness, and if it is possible in this situation and in our own lives and personal relationships.

Most of us have made some mistakes about which we feel badly and want forgiveness from the people who are most important to us. Maybe we said something wrong. Maybe we did something wrong. Maybe we hurt someone we love. In sorrow and with every intention of never doing the same thing again, we ask forgiveness from the person(s) wronged. Let's use the old-fashioned word for those misdeeds or bad words. We used to call these sins.

When we ask for forgiveness, we are asking the injured person to overcome what we have done and to trust us again. Unfortunately, once you have been seriously wronged, it is close to impossible not to see the "sinner" in a new and less favorable light. No matter how hard we try. Memories are not erasable. They are with us forever. If a spouse who has promised exclusivity cheats and then asks for forgiveness, sex is never quite the same for the wronged partner. If a friend knifes you in the back with cruel words or gossip, you can plaster over the memory with the stucco of kindness, but you and he/she know that the offensive text is always just beneath the whitewash. This is a fact of human nature, and our skill at forgiveness is anindicator of our quality as an adult.

Time is our ally when we ask for forgiveness because what seems mortally painful and injurious on Monday is less terrible when Friday rolls around. Wounds heal. But can victims of priestly abuse ever go back to Mass and hold out their hands to receive the host from a priest? Should they be expected to cultivate a virtue strong enough to make them be shepherded again by a man in a white collar? Can they bind themselves to the teaching authority of a church that has raped them? Even if they could, why should they? The clergy is a proven stumbling block on the road to God over which they can easily jump to safety. And let no pope dare say to those victims that without the sacraments administered by a priest they will be denied heaven and the grace of God!

I just don't know what we must demand from the Catholic Church before we can get back into bed with her. I do know that the words of Cardinal Brady seemed heartfelt whereas B16's careful "advance test marketing" of the idea of a Pastoral Letter seems insincere. This situation makes me feel very bad for the good priests who are careful selfless shepherds and must pay the price for their brothers' sins. It also makes me wonder how much more of this nonsense the gay clergy will swallow before jumping ship. Are they not yet sufficiently disgusted with being thrown under the bus? A bus driven by a pope who is shifting gears into reverse and will probably run them over again soon. Maybe tomorrow.

How do you all manage forgiveness in your own lives? Where do you draw the line between forgiveness as a value and self-respect in the face of victimization? This is not an easy question.

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Two questions:

1. Why do you feel it's necessary for the church to accept your forgiveness toward them?

2. Knowing all that you know, if the church were to send you a memo or notice reinstating you, would you accept it?

Forgiveness is very complex. Having managed finally to forgive most of the people who have hurt me, I can attest to its power to release me from a stranglehold of resentment, anger or hurt. To forgive takes away the power of the act. It does not make me immune to future hurt, and because of that I cannot forget, I must not forget. I alone can protect my heart.

Having said that, I look at these men in power, and I see no repentance. I see corruption of power, which is what child abuse is all about. I know that we can forgive whether or not a person is repentant, and I have done so; but it is also where I fail.

I have not been able to forgive the man who molested me when I was a child. My experience was relatively benign compared to many I’ve heard. I cannot find it in my heart to forgive the man who made the sight of duct tape a trigger for someone who will never recover from the horrific childhood that man inflicted. I cannot forgive the father of another friend who berated, beat and sexually abused a beautiful little boy who still exists terrified inside a man who finds no worth in himself. There are more stories with which I am intimate. These monsters are the only people on whom I wish revenge.

Obviously this has struck a nerve.

Forgiveness or its lack does not negate consequences. The priests who used their position of trust to gain power over children—whether those children were willing or not—must be held accountable in civil courts. The men who allowed them to continue to abuse must be held accountable in civil courts. The organization that protects itself must be held accountable.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church believes that it is the church. They are wrong: the people they serve are the church. (And neither one is God; another post.) When the leaders understand and exemplify the concept of servant leadership, the church will have returned to its Christian roots. Physician, heal thyself.

It takes time and that is called forgetting rather than forgiving. Betty, I know you have suffered trauma and I am sorry you had to go through that. Hopefully through time you will forget some of it. Playing "Jesus" and forgiving everyone doesn't make sense to me as you yourself admit by not being able to forgive.

As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I agree. Forgiving is one thing, but forgetting is an entirely other. I still haven't been able to forgive either.

I have a rabbi friend who works with survivors of the holocaust. She asked spoke often with me about the permanant brokeness at the center of those she works with. We often want cheap grace- I forgive you, all the world is fine. If a friend hurts my feelings, I confront them, we talk it out, hopefully we work through and move all...that is life.
When someone does something that hits at the heart of your humanity-rape,etc, things that cause deep psychic wounds, I'm sorry is not good enough. Society has an obligation to show such victims/survivors that what has been done is so destructive that some kind of accounting is neccesary for the process of healing, not only for the person, but for the community. Even at that the vicitim/survivor will live with brokeness that impacts their lives forever.
As far as the issues at hand: nothing close to forgiveness can come in my opinion until there is true acknowledgement on the part of the Roman Catholic Church for the institutional wrongs that were done here. The Irish bishops who recently resigned at least point the way in that direction.
Secondly, I think, the secular governments in each country involved must do full investigations and the excuse of confessional priviliage should be ignored for what it is: an attempt to get in the way of justice. Until these two things happens, the persons who have been so deeply affected cannot believe that the greater community takes their pain seriously. Thinks for letting me share.

Rick Sours | March 19, 2010 9:14 AM

For my Partner there is a pull at certain times of the year, Easter (Good Friday) and Christmas (Christmas Eve), to
attend Catholic services. My Partner who is in his fifties was raised in a strong Catholic family in New York City.
From his childhood through all his college years he attended Catholic schools. He was also a choir boy at St.
Patrick's Cathedral. During his marriage he was active in the Catholic children with his children and former wife.
One of his relatives was a Franciscan priest.

After we meet we attended a local Catholic church until my Partner sent his Priest a letter stating that my Partner was Gay;
the only response was to stop his collection envelopes!!!

My Partner is extremely spiritual and I witnessed his long continual spiritual journey. We attended Dignity and
then the Episcopal until the Father publicly expected his support for the Anglican church. We presently attend the
United Church of Christ.

I do not feel my Partner left the Catholic Church; the Catholic Church turned its back on my Partner.

active in the Catholic church with his children