Vol. 1, No.2
Dec. 2, 2008
From a speech by Tom Doyle at SNAP convention, Chicago
Issue 4: The understanding of forgiveness…
The doctrine of forgiveness forms the basis for yet another belief that
becomes toxic when merged with the Church's response to sexual abuse.
misunderstand the theological concept and believe it means leaving the
offense behind and essentially forgetting about it while forgoing any
expectation of justice or punishment for the offender. How
often have victims cringed at the words arrogantly uttered by a bishop
or high ranking cleric that "we
are a forgiving Church?" This attitude imposes misplaced
guilt on the victims for their justifiably angry feelings against their
There is a significant degree of confusion about the meaning of
officials speak of it and ask victims to dutifully forgive their
abusers, this easily translates into re-victimization. It is a conscious
attempt to misuse a theological concept to avoid responsibility and
accountability for the crime of abuse. To the victim, forgiveness may
translate to acting and thinking as if the event did not happen and to
the offender it translates into deliverance from taking responsibility
for the abuse.
Victims are often reminded that forgiveness is at the core of the
Christian belief system. They easily confuse the authentic notion of
forgiveness with the
feeling of forgiveness and the consequence that all is
forgiven and forgotten. Yet most, perhaps all cannot feel any
benevolence toward a sexual abuser.
The feeling of
justified though very intense anger simply cannot be controlled or
willed away in the name of a misunderstood and certainly misused
Churchmen or others
who urge forgiveness intentionally misinterpret the doctrine of
forgiveness for their own selfish benefit.
They also do not
comprehend the depth of pain that comes from sexual abuse nor do they
understand what re-victimization means.
Beliefs about forgiveness quickly become toxic for the victim and for
the institution as well. The victim experiences intense guilt over not
being able to
a sense of forgiveness. The institutional Church hinders its own painful
growth toward pastoral authenticity by using forgiveness to push the
whole issue into the shadows.
summed it up well:
"Churches use the concept of forgiveness
to short circuit the survival empowerment process…The Church cannot bear
to hear about child sexual abuse, so the quicker a child forgives, the
easier it is for the listener."
“The only thing necessary for the
triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing” – Edmund Burke