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