When is it time to forgive?

Todd Flowerday at Catholic Sensibility is a man of the church and a fine writer. His post today, When Is The Time To Forgive? is as fine an example of both those attributes as you will find on his blog.

Jumping off a quote from Irene Lagan of InsideCatholic blogs on Cardinal George's deposition in the Chicago sex abuse settlement as reported in the Chicago Tribune, Todd suggests the Twelve Step methodology and the Sacrament of Reconciliation as models for dealing with the anger which has such a strong grip on ecclesial life:

This is a profoundly difficult issue. Anger is indeed a danger, and we Catholics are far from immune from its delicious allure. I believe the Twelve Steps and the Sacrament of Penance both provide models to inform us how we can forgive. They also suggest the direction some bishops might take to assist the process of forgiveness.

Cardinal George has made things very difficult for himself and for his brother bishops not for what happened forty years ago, but for his own administrative flaws in handling predator clergy two to six years ago. That bishops blundered badly in the past is old news. That today’s bishops bypass the very structures they put in place is a mark of grave hubris. This pride threatens the whole fabric of the Church, especially the relationship between the laity and the hierarchy. The bishops risk a self-induced marginalization that will see them impotent not only in dealing with wayward clergy, but in leading a unified Church when other matters batter us.

It is true that to complete the healing process victims and families must move on, once they have grieved and come to terms with loss. This is the problem with the culture’s talk-show and therapy mindset. Getting in touch with one’s feelings is important. It’s a step many people skip in childhood because of pathology in family dynamics.

You have to go back. You have to feel the feelings. But there are steps beyond that, steps that lead into healthy adulthood and integration of one’s emotional life with the more grown-up aspects of delayed gratification, sacrifice, and becoming other-centered in relationships.

The lack of a sense of sin, so often criticized in post-conciliar laity, seems evident in the episcopacy. My suggestion for Cardinal George and other bishops, would be to apply the Twelve Steps. It gives helpful, spiritual, and constructive guidance and it might begin the healing process with the faithful. Given their close association with sex addicts, especially the grooming that has taken place, it might be the healthiest and most accurate model to follow. Here they are, adapted:

1. We admitted we were powerless over our personal flaws and ecclesial shortcomings in dealing with priest predators—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that God could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Bishops are more than business managers of dioceses. They are called by God to give exemplary witness to Christ: not for the sake of their own holiness, but that others may see and follow that example. If they believe there is a loss of a sense of sin, perhaps example rather than preaching will effect a recovery from this so-called loss.

A culture of forgiveness must be preceded by the steps that lead up to it. There is no magical anger-b-gone pill. Forgiveness implies a relationship between the offender and the one harmed. Let’s look at how this relationship works in both the Twelve Steps and in the sacramental life. In the sacrament of penance, a penitent makes a choice to celebrate the sacrament, inspired by an awareness of personal sin (steps 1-3), conducts an examination of conscience (step 4), then confesses the sin (step 5). A sincere act of contrition follows (steps 6-7). In the classical rite, acts of satisfaction (steps 8-9) would follow. Then the penitent would receive absolution. Steps ten through twelve parallel the ongoing conversion every believer must attend to in her or his own life, the renewal of steps one through nine for the recovering addict.


(The whole of Todd's post includes his thoughts on whether or not Cardinal George should resign as archbishop of Chicago.)


  1. The Twelve Step Program has helped millions of people through the years. Perhaps, its adaptation could help the bishops too. A unique approach, but one that could bear fruit. I wonder if the bishops would be willing to put in on their November agenda.

  2. The adaptation of the 12 steps can be quite useful. What I have to say may sound simplistic, but it is not meant that way. It is a long hard road to travel before you can forgive. But one thing I have learned along the way is that anger not worked through = depression. My prayer is that we can get through the anger, acknowledge the wrongs that were done to us, and move on to a better life. Forgive does not mean forget. And it does not mean that what was done is OK. It just gives us a better life. Take away the power of the pain inflicted upon us. Again, I in no way mean to make this a simplistic process. I have been there and know that it is a long hard road to travel, but try hard. Try hard to take away the power from the perpetrator. What they have left behind in their wake is not worth giving up on a better life for yourself. Try hard, pray hard, get well, and leave the rest up to God.


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