There is a lot of forgiving going on in some circles – especially as related to the crimes of Maciel and the duplicity of the Movement in covering it up. In that light, I would like to recall some of the essential elements about forgiveness, which is a requisite for authentic Christian life.
“…Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us …”
We cannot be fully reconciled with God without forgiving those who have hurt us in any way. That is clear. The problem seems to be in defining who forgives whom. Let’s take a story about a drunk driver who runs over a little girl in his neighbourhood. She hasn’t been killed but will be a paraplegic for life. Where does forgiveness come in? We begin by asking who was harmed: the child was harmed, her family was impacted, the driver’s family is impacted, and the wider community is wounded. Each of these four elements are required to forgive – with it being hardest on the little girl. She may have to make repeated acts of forgiveness (which are acts of the will) as she ages, when her limitations present a new suffering to her. (i.e. her forgiveness realising that she cannot play on the playground any more will be different from when she discovers that she cannot bear children, etc.)
The family will have a difficult time with the tragic turn their whole lives will take and the neighbourhood will grieve the whole thing. The driver’s family will forgive something different: they will have to deal with the shame and what his incarceration does to the future of them all. But this is where we are blindly moving into the ridiculous: for the family of a classmate of the injured girl to come forward forgiving the man for injuring the girl is out of place. Surely they cannot condemn him (no one can!) but it is not their place to officially extend forgiveness. How would the family of the victim feel about a quote in the local paper that says as much? It would simply be odd, out of place, perhaps painful for them to read.
It would be more absurd for the family of the driver to forgive their son for hurting the girl. That is not appropriate to them, although they also cannot condemn him. Do you see how the acts of forgiveness towards Maciel on the part of members of the Movement appear? They say, we must forgive – he’s only human. This is not only bad theology but out of place and painful to the victims of Maciel. It’s like a foreign government official extending forgiveness to Usama bin Laden for the 9-11 tragedy. The members of the Movement must forgive Maciel’s deception and abuse of their own good will, but it is absurd for them to think they are to forgive his molestation of the young and abuse of the funds entrusted to him for the good of souls.
Now, even forgiveness (for which the victims will require grace to extend) doesn’t preclude justice. I’ve understood it that Pope John Paul II went to visit Metmet Ali Agha in prison specifically to offer his forgiveness for his assassination attempt. It seemed to be a very remarkable moment. Evidently, Agha asked if he would intervene so that his prison sentence could be shortened. The pope said absolutely not. Just because he forgives doesn’t mean that the consequences of the action are mitigated. In heaven yes, but not here – or there would be no order.
It has been posited for years that Maciel had committed crimes: pederasty, abuse of funds, use of illegal drugs (as well as medicating in-house without proper prescriptions). Of course I’m not privy to all depositions – so there may be more. Then there are the crimes of sacrilege which are too numerous to list. There must be accountability for all of these things -- especially if others in the Legion enabled these crimes.
Despite the effort on the part of many to be heroic Catholics, I would say that short-circuiting justice is absolutely unchristian – and it must stop. Our love of souls and desire for a purified Church demand that forgiveness be undertaken in the proper way. It doesn’t hinge on apologies – although they often help a great deal. It doesn’t require confrontation, although some will pursue such a thing. It requires careful deliberation of the first-hand injury and no more.
To forgive the injuries done to others only increases their burden, adds to their pain, and ultimately insults the whole purification process. Please spare us the misplaced absolution, and tend to your own wounds. When they are cared for properly, we will have that many more wise souls in our midst that can help the confused flock at this difficult time.
One addendum: I never recommend over-hasty forgiveness. Taking the time to name and grieve a wound is essential to really digging out the injustice. We cannot hide behind knee-jerk absolution which is actually a form of denial. That said, there are extraordinary stories of heroic and complete forgiveness in the blink of an eye, but such examples are rare.