How to forgive child molesters


#1

I have never been molested, but like most Catholics it pains me to hear about cases of molestation, and I find it particularly disheartening when I hear of cases involving our own clergy. Like most people, when I hear about a case of child molestation I feel empathy toward the victim and resent the molester.

No doubt, society must protect children from people who molest, and if that means incarceration, so be it. This thread is not about how we should punish or rehabilitate them. But like all “enemies” in our society, we are called to love them, which begins with forgiveness.

I think that like forgiving anyone else, to forgive a person who has molested children involves three acts:

  1. Do something to gain control of the situation. If the person who molests is still on the loose, or if, say, the Church is allowing molesters to continue in ministry, forgiveness will be extremely difficult.

  2. Pray for the person, and not just that they be rehabilitated.

  3. Work to understand the person, to the point that one no longer feels like punishing (which will not conflict with protecting children by use of encarceration and/or rehabilitation of the perpetrator).

In the year 2000, a good article appeared in America magazine discussing this topic:

americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=2322

In 2003, when the crisis of molestations by clergy was blown wide open by the press, (which I think was not coincidentally the same year as our attack on Iraq) I began searching for the answers for #3 above. Why do people molest children?

I ended up asking a psychologist friend, who said that people who molest children are convinced that the child wants the relationship, that self-deception and denial play a big role. But even if you have the child communicate their hurt and violation to the perpetrator, why would they not stop such action? The psychologist told me that it is very difficult to convince such a person that they have hurt someone, they insist that the relationship was consensual and good for all involved. The violators are blind.

This does not "excuse" anyone. Excusing someone is to present their case in such a way as to avoid some kind of penalty or consequence. Understanding is not the same as excusing, but understanding, as part of forgiveness, does neutralize the desire to punish.

There are, of course, the cases in which the perpetrator has an inability to empathize with people at all (i.e.“psychopaths”), for whom remorse is not part of their vocabulary, but such cases are very rare. The premise of this thread still applies: it behooves us to forgive even those who have an inability to empathize.

I feel compelled to add that victims and perpetrators of the crimes have a much more difficult task, and I am not qualified to comment or make suggestions (other than to say that forgiveness is still needed).

Feel free to add your own insights as far as learning how to understand and forgive those who commit these crimes. I am no expert, nor am I a “professional”. I welcome input that helps us all to forgive.


#2

No insights to add to yours, just prayers.
Because if you are thinking deeply about this great tragedy of souls perverted, and of innocents betrayed,
then your insights and thought includes a God-given impetus to prayer


#3

Indeed prayers, many prayers.
Also ask our mother Mary to help you forgive those people. If there is one person who truly knows how to forgive its her. Because she saw Jesus being crucifid, yet she forgave us for doing so. Now I dunno how she did it. But whenever I find that I need to forgive someone I always ask for her help.

And remember when we forgive someone, we don't agree with what they have done. It's not because of them that we forgive them, its so that we ourselves are able to give it a place and move on.


#4

Dear Friend. St. Maria Goretti would be a good Saint to ask for prayer. Her story I believe will inspire you.
Briefly she was raped/molested at a very early age( choosing to die rather than let the molester have their way).She forgave him on her death bed. Just some of her story.
I will pray for you for guidance in this matter.


#5

How many times should we forgive them? Jesus’ reply included their repentance. I have no problem forgiving people who repent. Obviously, God will does not forgive those who do not repent. It would be wrong for me to make them think that God forgives them when they do not repent. Jesus was praying for those who would repent. Jesus did not forgive the Pharisees and Sadducees. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. The Church does not forgive us unless we confess. The reason I bring this up, is that we are too “tolerant” in this country. Love is God. God doesn’t let everyone into heaven. We shouldn’t give them the wrong idea. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians to cast out the fellow who was having relations with his father’s wife. We are told not to associate with people who call themselves Christians, but are blatant hypocrites. I think there is a measure of wisdom needed in our understanding of a “blanket of forgiveness” that is unscriptural. I do understand that many people have problems forgiving those who are sorry for offending. A girlfriend of mine has that problem. It is a serious problem, but shouldn’t be misconstrued to include forgiveness for blatant sinners. The whole purpose is to bring them to the Lord…and scripture is very wise in individual situations for sinners. We should also teach and take that approach.


#6

(Just as a clarification, her attacker was unsuccessful in his attempts, her resistance was what drove him to attack her. Rather beautifully I think, he later had a conversion after she came to him in a dream. He went to her mother and begged forgiveness - she gave it to him and the pair went to Mass the next day and received the Eucharist side by side. He even attended her canonisation. So incredible!)

I agree, Saint Maria Goretti is an excellent saint for this kind of intention - her story is one that has greatly inspired me, such a young girl showing such purity and love. As would be the Blessed John Paul II, he visited a man who tried to assassinate him in prison and expressed his forgiveness towards him.

It is not easy to forgive those who commit what we see as great evils. For me, the important thing in learning forgiveness is to remember our own weaknesses and sins. Not one of us is perfect, yet the Almighty Lord gives us forgiveness. If He who is perfect can forgive us, who are we as sinner to not forgive our fellows?


#7

Thank you, BONNI P, Perfect Timing, o0omaryo0o, and Trishie for your great insights and suggestions on the prayer aspect. The St. Maria Goretti story is tragic and inspirational, I try to bring her name up every year with my confirmation candidates.

[quote="journey2kazoo, post:5, topic:264397"]
How many times should we forgive them? Jesus' reply included their repentance. I have no problem forgiving people who repent. Obviously, God will does not forgive those who do not repent. It would be wrong for me to make them think that God forgives them when they do not repent. Jesus was praying for those who would repent. Jesus did not forgive the Pharisees and Sadducees. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. The Church does not forgive us unless we confess. The reason I bring this up, is that we are too "tolerant" in this country. Love is God. God doesn't let everyone into heaven. We shouldn't give them the wrong idea. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians to cast out the fellow who was having relations with his father's wife. We are told not to associate with people who call themselves Christians, but are blatant hypocrites. I think there is a measure of wisdom needed in our understanding of a "blanket of forgiveness" that is unscriptural. I do understand that many people have problems forgiving those who are sorry for offending. A girlfriend of mine has that problem. It is a serious problem, but shouldn't be misconstrued to include forgiveness for blatant sinners. The whole purpose is to bring them to the Lord.....and scripture is very wise in individual situations for sinners. We should also teach and take that approach.

[/quote]

I read recently a quote from a book I'm reading (the quoted priest was named 'Tom'), "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do."

I think it might be a stretch to say that Jesus did not forgive certain people. He was hanging on the cross and forgave everyone present.


#8

I continue my response to journey2kazoo:

Jesus asks us to forgive an infinite number of times. The Lord's prayer does not call for conditions for which we forgive or not. To me the idea of God forgiving conditionally conflicts with the premise of an unconditionally loving God.

But I know what it feels like to resent, and I can understand completely the rule "don't forgive unless they repent". I think the reason that this is such a common rule is because of the control aspect. We want to withhold any kind of "good" towards someone (as punishment) unless the situation is under control, which is the purpose of our "punishment instinct" in the first place. But I think Jesus asks us to go beyond our instincts, (they are good in themselves, but we are enslaved by them) and to forgive unconditionally.

As far as resentment of our society's "tolerance", I think you are wanting more control over people's behavior, and that some non-acceptance on our part would help the problem. You make a valid point. It is possible to love and forgive people, yet communicate non-acceptance of behavior: difficult, but doable. Better still is express oneself using NVC, or non-violent communication, which is really the modern version of "turning the cheek". NVC trains us to communicate in a way that lessens the possibility of triggering an escalating battle, it is a method that concentrates on empathy. I am not "good at" NVC, but I try once in awhile.


#9

Remember forgiving someone does not mean you must continue to be in their presence or continue to have any contact with them.

If anyone had ever abused my children, I would likely have forgiven them eventually because hatred kills, but I would never have allowed myself or my children to be around them ever again.


#10

I so appreciate all of your thoughts on this subject of forgiveness, but again, you have failed to respond to the things I stated previously. As I said, the Church does not forgive us UNLESS we CONFESS (with REPENTANCE in your heart). Sorry, but all of your philosophy on this topic of forgiveness has not been reasonable. You didn't talk about any of the scriptural references or any of the reasoning I stated. Please try again to help me, if you think I'm wrong. The Church is God working through man.....as He does in each of us who are devoted followers. So.....if you think your philosophy is correct, then you need to tell me why the Church doesn't forgive everyone....no matter if they're repentant or not.

Thanks for all of your responses. I think this is a very serious understanding that has been misunderstood.


#11

Another question - what does forgiveness impart to either the forgiver or the forgiven? If your brother sins against you, what does the bible say we're suppose to do? There are specific instances in scripture that speak to the subject we're discussing.


#12

After more thought, I believe what we're talking about is whether you want revenge. Not wanting revenge.....praying for your enemies......turning the other cheek......all of that is NOT forgiveness. We need to understand what forgiveness is......what it imparts to the forgiven. I can speak of a slanderous person ..... extremely slanderous and malevolent against myself and my husband. Do I forgive that person? NO......I CAN'T.....because they have not repented and continue to hold that spirit of ungodliness. Does that mean that want vengeance? "Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord. "I will repay." Does that mean that I pray for her that the Lord will open her eyes to see the truth of the situation? Absolutely!! Pray for your enemies and those that do evil against you. Does that mean that I forgive her. NO. I can't. Forgiveness imparts grace......and we play a part in that as much as the church when people sin against us. What are your thoughts with regard to this explanation?


#13

What a timely thread for me. I just turned down a holiday invitation to be with my bio family because two people would be there who do no need to be around children. I was told to forgive and that they weren't likely to touch my kids, let alone on the holiday! :rolleyes:

I'm grateful for this thread and the feedback. Thanks, guys. :grouphug:


#14

Surly Mermaid, Wisdom is another necessary component to living a godly life. I'm glad to see you're exercising precaution with your children, and praying for wisdom in all situations. That's not to say that perhaps you should go to the celebration.......but if you do, you would be there to do the Lord's will, not because you were going to necessarily enjoy having to keep your eye on the children at every single moment. That's not enjoyable. But it's also not to say that you shouldn't go. Wisdom and prayer bring different answers for different situations. Bless your heart!!!


#15

And by the way, Surly Mermaid, child molesters do not differentiate between weekdays and holidays. In fact, the devil is most opposed to Christ during the holidays. Easter is the highest in rank. All evil is from the pit of hell. God is completely separate from it.....and we live to bring His will on earth as it is in heaven. PRAY my dear sister, and the Lord will give you direction. Lean not on your own understanding...in ALL your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path. Grace and peace to you!


#16

Journey,

Thanks! We didn't go last week. I'm sad and perplexed that I was expected to bring my children around these people. Well, my children are going to be raised better. I just had a talk with my first grader on the way to school about how it is NOT okay for people to hurt others. I was raised to believe otherwise and it damaged me in ways you just don't even think of.


#17

We do not live according to fear.....not if we're mature Christians. We live according to faith...and seek to do God's will in all things. It doesn't matter what it is. David and Goliath are a good example.....faith or fear? All of this is a part of the whole...and forgiveness is as important to understand as every aspect. So please.....help me if you think what I'm saying is wrong....I'm convinced in my position, thus far.


#18

Surly Mermaid, I wasn't responding to your last post. I'm sorry..I hadn't read it. God bless you as you battle such a terrible adversary! Strength and peace and wisdom be yours....as well as prudence. All the virtues are SO WONDERFUL! Love you! Kristine


#19

I believe through prayer I was given the grace to forgive the person who abused me. This was realizing that we were boh trapped; she in sin and me in unforgiveness. This understanding came when I prayed to learn to love. The first thing I was shown after that prayer is how to love my enemy. Made me think.

I agree that these child molesters often believe the child wants it, the relationship is romantic, etc. But there are others, like in my case, where the molester also had sone dark spiritual practices and rituals involve in the abuse and did it for a sense of power / an an enjoyment of doing evil. It's hard to believe some people like the idea of getting away with evil etc.

The only "revenge" is not letting it destroy the victim and having the love of Christ. Praying for the conversion of the attacker is important. Thank God we know this life an "success" by the world's standards is not all there is to life.

It helps me to offer masses for all victims, pray for their protection, and to know Mary & Jesus & His angels are with each and every one the whole way.


#20

Wow. Thanks so much for the personal insight in understanding people who molest. Yes, just like any bullying behavior, it is obvious in your experience that the abuser did it for a sense of power. I used to bully my brother, and it did give me a feeling of power. When I did, I was quite unaware of his value, the impact I had on him, the value of being a human, his beauty. He was a “thing”.

All of us want power and control. The problem lies when we are blind to the humanity of others, and all that means. Jesus’ crucifiers were blind to his humanity, much less his divinity.

Thanks for adding your valuable post to this thread!


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.