Saturday, 3 May 2008

The Unforgiveable!

Forgive me Father for I have sinned - It has been 3 weeks since my last blog post!

Fellow blogger,
Bock the Robber, (not my father!) has been on my case about my blogstapation and rightly so. Then I got an email today from GUBU (Sarah Carey) about my call to Joe Duffy's Liveline this week - Apparently it was reprised on Playback (show of 3rd May 08) this morning. So I thought if I was fired up enough to phone Joe Duffy surely I could put a few words together for the blog. So here it is:

What got me so worked up that I called Joe Duffy?

Well he had Fr Pat Bradley, a Dublin based priest, on the show. Fr Pat had put his head above the parapet and suffered the consequences. He had
written a character reference letter to a judge who was deliberating on the sentencing of a young man who had violently and repeatedly raped a polish girl in the grounds of a church. It was a horrible crime and one can only hope that the victim can rescue something of her shattered life in the future. That said, Fr Bradley’s angle was that this attack was out of character for the perpetrator, who he knew quite well. He felt that the Judge should have all the facts at his disposal in arriving at a just sentence. He was not looking for acquittal or undue leniency, but simply justice. He felt that the young man deserved a lengthy sentence, as did his own mother so there was no question of belittling the crime or the victim.

Well predictably enough his intervention was not well received by Joe Public! Fr Bradley found himself at the receiving end of a tide of vitriol and hatred from a succession of callers who all claimed to be Christian and yet insisted that the perpetrator was beyond the scope of Christian forgiveness. If the callers had not argued from a Christian perspective and simply attacked the Christian notion of forgiveness then their arguments would have had some integrity but to argue that Christian forgiveness is limited is a denial of basic Christianity. One caller who explicitly declared herself a Christian said she would place a hex (curse) on Fr. Pat for his intervention!

It is clear that there was a lot of anger in the contributions and in some cases that was understandable, particularly where family members had been victims of similar crimes. However for the most part it seemed to be more a case of self-righteous anger and perhaps thinly veiled anti-clericalism. In the light of some of the events in various religious institutions, that in itself is not surprising but it does muddy a very serious issue. Is every sexual offender really totally beyond hope of recovery / redemption / forgiveness? Are all sexual crimes equivalent? Should we just lock the door and throw away the key? If you were to take a poll of the callers to Liveline it would seem that that would be the consensus. Of course that is the easy option because it means that we do not have to confront the possibility that society (our society) plays a part in the increasing levels of violence against not only women but men and women, children and senior-citizens alike!

It seemed to me and I said as much that a lot of the callers were looking for vengeance rather than justice! It is not specifically Christian wisdom to point out that vengeance damages the victim more than the perpetrator – most psychologists would agree. It is unrealistic to expect overnight forgiveness but whatever you call it, people have to let go of hurt eventually or it will consume them. Forgiveness is not forgetting – it is rather saying that your actions will no longer determine my life! Forgiveness does not mean that no punishment is appropriate but it does insist on justice, not revenge!

I think that Fr Pat was representing very faithfully the cutting edge of the Gospel, what I referred to as ‘Hard Gospel’ (a phrase very popular in my own church at the moment). The Gospel is not something tidy or polite or inoffensive. It is disturbing and disruptive and very often swims against the tide of public opinion, as did Jesus! The Gospel is not about popularity or mob rule but rather about justice, compassion and love, the last of which is the most volatile and uncontrollable force in our lives.

One of the phrases I used in my defence of Fr Pat was that we are “not the sum total of our worst acts” but sadly that is how we seem to respond to the criminal element in our midst. We are fundamentalists when it comes to categorising people today: They are good or they are bad, when of course the truth is that we live in a world of shades of grey.

We are all of us capable of the most unspeakable acts of depravity and yet we are also capable of the most beautiful acts of Love. That is what I means to be a human being in all of our extraordinary and terrifying complexity. Just as it could be our beautiful daughter who is raped it could equally be our precious son who commits the ‘unforgiveable’ act! Are we really as bad as our worst act? I hope not because it presents a bleak future for humanity! The traditional understanding of ‘The Fall’ in Genesis probably has played a part in this fatalistic view of humanity but that is something for another posting……….


Grannymar said...

There but for the grace....

Bock the Robber said...

I have a problem with this.

What was the purpose of this character reference?

The rapist subjected the poor girl to two hours of torture and humiliation. What else did the court need to know about him?

Stephen Neill said...

Bock - The facts of this gross crime are not at issue - Nobody including myself is suggesting it was anything other than a despicable act and if it had been done to anyone close to me I would probably be baying for blood and perhaps even participating in an act of summary 'justice!

As to the purpose of the letter - As I understand it the letter was merely saying that this behaviour was not typical/in character for the young man who committed this sustained and vicious rape.
I do think this is relevant as there is more to a person than the actual crime they commit. We describe the man as a 'rapist' and that he is but is that all he is? You are a 'blogger' as am I to a lesser extent in terms of frequency but that one word does not describe the totality of our person. If a judge is seeking to judge and not simply exercise revenge on behalf of an angry public then they should have as much information as is possible before them.

it is often said that the measure of civil society is the way we treat the young and the old - perhaps we should add the victims of crime and the criminals who commit these crimes?

The moment we say that a particular class of criminal has no rights we are on a slippery slope that will erode the very values that protect all vulnerable people in our society

Bock the Robber said...


I describe him as a rapist because that's what he is for the purposes of sentencing. I can't see the relevance of saying that this crime was out of character. This crime was not of a kind where he assaulted his victim and ran away. It was even worse. He imprisoned and raped the girl for two hours. It was systematic, merciless and calculated, and therefore, almost by definition, it was very much in character.

In my view, the priority must be to make sure that the rest of us are safe from a person with the propensity to do this kind of thing and that means removing him permanently from society at large.

As regards Father Pat writing on his behalf, I'm sure his victim begged and pleaded with him ceaselessly for the two hours he was raping her. And as we know, his victim's pleas for mercy went unheeded.

It appears to me that society at large doesn't own the right to forgive this man. In my opinion, that right rests solely with the girl he raped.

paddyanglican said...

Bock - I don't see how anything you have said advances your argument or undermines mine but I do agree that forgiveness is the gift of the victim - that does not mean that the victim determines the sentence! Yes I also agree that protection of society is a priority but where do we draw the line on who is forever dammed? Do we go down the road of Guantsnamo Bay? As I said before it is far too easy to distance ourselves from such crimes and never engage with possible elements of our modern society that contribute towards increased levels of sexual violence.

Bock the Robber said...

Stephen: i wouldn't dream of trying to undermine your argument. You have a legitimate, thought-out position on it, and I have to respect that. Likewise, I'm just expressing how I feel about the case.

The term "forever damned" is a bit biblical for my competence, but I think you're talking about putting people outside the Pale for the rest of their lives. In that case, yes, I do believe that some people deserve to be punished for as long as they live. I don't know if this fellow fits into that category, if only because there are even worse crimes and we need a fit penalty for these as well.

I wouldn't have used the term "forgiveness" in a State context at all, except that I was echoing something you mentioned, and I don't think it has anything to do with sentencing.

I think Finn's lack of mercy towards his victim defeats any character reference he might receive. It appears to me that this man was acting entirely in character, and that this crime was simply the first manifestation of that character that we know of.

I certainly wouldn't want to have a new Guantanamo, but the analogy doesn't hold up anyway, since no prisoner there has received a trial, fair or otherwise.

paddyanglican said...

Ok Bock - undermine was a bad word and we will probably agree to differ on this issue.

As for 'forever damned' at least you can spell 'damned' unlike myself, whatever about your biblical competence ;-)

As for degrees of punishment - have we given up on the idea of rehabilitation? I know that in our current prison regime this may be a mere aspiration but do we just give up?

Re forgiveness - not sure we disagree here - It is a separate issue from sentencing and I only mentioned it because in the Joe Duffy show people were arguing from a Christian perspective that rape was by definition an unforgivable crime - this could be generally argued but for better or worse not from a Christian basis.

Re 'in character' I am not convinced - Who is to say aberrant behaviour is time limited?

And finally re Guantanamo - yes bad analogy but what I was trying to convey was the idea that we abandon the ideal of justice in the face of horrendous crimes and just throw away the key.

Bock the Robber said...

I sense that we might be struggling towards common ground.

I have no special interest in retribution. However, I feel that he should be punished severely for what he has done, and furthermore, I feel that he should never be released while there's the slightest doubt in anyone's mind that he might do this again.

I'm sorry if you think this is harsh, but the full responsibility for these consequences rests with the man who committed the crime, and not with society. I didn't force him to do this, and neither did you. More importantly, neither did the majority portion of our society: women.

If somebody wants to work with him while he's in jail, I have no problem with that, but I also have no sympathy for him. I want him locked up for the safety of my daughter and all the other women in my life.

paddyanglican said...

Ok agreed on no release if danger to others - not harsh just sensible - certainly nobody forced him but I am conscious that it is human nature to anathamatize (sp?) that which we fear most in ourselves - not accusing you of this incidentally. On that note I will bid you goodnight - In Dublin to take part in election of a new Bishop of Limerick tomorrow so need my wits about me in case we end up with Sinead O'Connor!

Bock the Robber said...

If you need help installing him, I think I have a manual.

OrganDonor said...

Bock: hahahaha...

a heavy discussion and I commend you for doing the Christian thing and standing up for Fr Pat but i would see peoples vitriol in this case may have something to do with a certain Cork Td's letter to a Judge recently.Mob mentality is usually the rule of thumb on Duffy's show.
However i would agree with Bock that the severity of this crime,that it was a sustained and brutal attack and if he did it once then he will do it again,fine if he gets treatment in prison but before he is released there must be no doubt that th rehabilitation has worked..

Primal Sneeze said...

So anyway ... who won the bishop thing?

Bock the Robber said...

Yeah. Who got the Bishopric?

paddyanglican said...

Organ Donor - yes I loved the manual crack! Thanks Bock :-)Thanks also for your comments and I do agree that any release would need to be on basis of consensus that re-offending not a possibility, though admittedly hard to guarantee that.

New Boss is Canon Trevor Williams, a former journalist and religious tv producer with the Beeb. He is also a former head of the Corrymela community and works very closely with Fr. Aidan Troy sharing the same patch. I am personally delighted - I think he is someone who will think outside the box. After 7 hours in conclave today, sweltering in an airtight room in the upper levels of Christ Church Cathedral, it was a great relief to get such a good result.

Bock the Robber said...

Was it a secret conclave?

paddyanglican said...

yes - we have to sign a confidentiality clause as to proceedings. Only final result is published with no details on the voting! May sound like a bit of overkill but it is to protect unsuccessful candidates who may be proposed. Electoral college numbers 52 and is 50/50 clergy / lay and anyone can propose a name. Half the delegates come from the vacant diocese and the other half from the other dioceses of the province concerned-In this case southern.
I am sure you are glad you asked ;-)

Bock the Robber said...

No, really, I was interested. I bet there's none of that white smoke mumbo jumbo, though.

paddyanglican said...

unless you count all the nicotine addicts coming out for a fix when it was all over ;-)