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……….