Commentary: Getting to forgiveness

by JD Flynn

Denver, Colo., Sep 19, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).-
I have spent most of this summer angry with Christ’s Church.

When the first credible allegation against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick-my own former bishop- was announced, he was the focus of my anger. I marveled that a man of God could act with such cruelty toward children, seminarians, and priests.

As the weeks passed, my anger spread beyond McCarrick. First it spread to the bishops who were negligent or selfish enough to allow him to continue in ministry, and then to the institution itself- to a Church structure that seems often to reward mediocrity and punish holiness, a system that allows the sacraments of God to be tied up with hubris and the callow self-interest of twisted men.

If I’m being honest, I have also spent most of this summer deeply wounded. Disappointed that men I know-bishops I love, and admire, and respect- failed to intervene in ways that might have prevented harm to children, to priests, to souls, and to the Church. I’m hurt by indecision, incompetence, and indecency, and I’m angry at those who have hurt me.

The apologies from bishops have sounded self-serving, bureaucratic, and mechanical. Their pledges to change ring hollow. The pope-the Vicar of Christ-has not yet given me a satisfying explanation, or a word of helpful consolation.

I’m angry about those things.

I’ve knelt down before Christ with that anger, that pain, with exasperation and a deep sense of disappointment. I’ve asked him to take it from me. He has not yet done so.

Summer is fading now, but my anger is not. These are not wounds which time will easily heal. But it has become apparent to me that I can’t continue to live this way.

Anger can be righteous, holy even, and the source of purifying fire and sanctifying justice. But anger can also be self-righteous- prideful and self-indulgent. Anger can fester and furrow into bitterness, seducing us into believing that we, not God, are fit to judge the souls of other men.

That kind of anger is destructive, not righteous. It leads to our damnation. And it can only be defeated by forgiveness.

In 1997, Pope St. John Paul II explained that neither souls nor communities can find peace “unless an attitude of sincere forgiveness takes root in human hearts. When such forgiveness is lacking, wounds continue to fester, fueling in the younger generation endless resentment, producing a desire for revenge and causing fresh destruction.”

“Offering and accepting forgiveness is the essential condition for making the journey towards authentic and lasting peace.”

God will call each one us to forgive his Church. To forgive the men who have wounded Christ’s body. To forgive those bishops who have been negligent, selfish, or evil. We won’t all forgive at the same time- it is far easier for me to talk about forgiveness than it is for the victims of abuse, or their families.  But I have allowed my own righteous anger to become something else.

For me, it’s time to forgive.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It doesn’t even mean letting go of righteous anger. I am angry at sin, and at sinners, and among them are the bishops of our Church. I expect our bishops to act rightly, but I don’t yet trust that they will. We need accountability, and I intend to insist on it, in every way that I can. Justice demands that.

We also need a spiritual renewal in our Church, and among our leaders. We need bishops who want to be saints. We need bishops who take governance seriously, who take doctrine seriously, who take sacred worship seriously.

Forgiveness is not a capitulation to how things are, to the detriment of how they ought to be.

In one sense, forgiveness changes very little. But what forgiveness might change is me. Forgiveness means that I’ll try to help build up the Body of Christ. That I’ll try to assist the bishops in fulfilling the call God gave them. Forgiveness will mean that I’ll try to pray for our bishops, and that I’ll try very hard to mean it.

None of that will be easy. But anger, resentment, and bitterness have become a poison to me. They’re not easy to live with either. And they have eternal consequences. To have eternal intimacy with God, I need the Church. I’m called to communion with her. And that’s what matters in the end. I’m still angry. But I’ll learn to forgive the Church, or I’ll be damned.

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  1. You might also need distance from the Church. The New Testament says, “ If it be possible as far as within you lies, be at peace with all men.” Rom.12:18. That’s God saying you might not be able to be at peace with certain Bishops, priests, pundits etc. In those cases….get distance. Go fly fishing, shoot baskets, cultivate your recreational life…( it re-creates you ). Take up fancy diving…you’ll forget all idiots during an open pike 1&1/2 from the high board.
    And blame all Popes since 1960…I think you’re avoiding that and it’s part of the truth. They were writing too many things when they should have been watching the soup on the stove.

  2. “For me, it’s time to forgive.”

    It has always been my understanding that forgiveness requires repentance. And confession, and a request to be forgiven.

  3. When it comes to forgiving I have some questions. How many unrepentant mortal sinners are in heaven? How many sinners are still sinning in heaven? Were the Old Testament prophets being sinful when they called unfaithful Israel to account for her transgressions?
    Despite Christ’s pleas for forgiveness on the Cross, God permitted both Jerusalem and the Temple to be put to destruction in 70 AD, fulfilling Christ’s woes in Luke 11. This destruction was particularly gruesome.
    At what point does forgiveness become the enablement of sin?

    • Greg,
      By the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 20:5), those who hated God were to be punished down to the third and fourth generation ie the 600,000 (Tacitus) to 1.1 million (Josephus) killed in Jerusalem 70AD. At Jerusalem their death did not mean damnation since Ezekiel says “the SOUL that sins the same shall die..the son shall not die for the sin of the father neither the father for the son) (soul=eternally die). Those who died at Jerusalem were being punished physically not eternally unless they had other mortal sin.
      Your son breaks the front window with a ball…you forgive him but he still has to pay for the new window…forgiveness and punishment are separate in many cases but not in all cases.

      • I need to clarify my comment. I was talking about their physical punishment. The final destination of the soul at death is for God alone to decide.
        Mortal sin separates us from God because it kills the spiritual life of the soul. All sin places our wills in opposition to God’s will. The Beatific Vision is a life of pure union with God. Repentance and purgation are intended to bring our will into conformity with God’s will so that we can enter into this life of pure union with God. God honors our free will. If we demonstrate by our actions that we prefer our own will over God’s will He will honor our choice. He is not a spiritual version of Harvey Weinstein forcing Himself on us. This is why Mary was given the Immaculate Conception, and God received her fiat before the Incarnation. It was to make it possible for there to be a true loving free will exchange between the Holy Spirit and Mary at the Incarnation when she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation was a prayer of union. Union between the Holy Spirit and Mary, and the creation of the Hypostatic Union of Christ’s divine and human natures.

  4. I think that forgiving the unrepentant can help a person let go of the hurt that has been inflicted – to some degree anyway. God could reward and comfort the person for their generous action. However, how much good it has done the unrepentant though: God only knows. Having said this! I think there is a time for forgiving.

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