Friday, November 15, 2002

I write this with some serious reservations. Some readers will no doubt think me a heartless churl, while others will think even worse of me. I hesitate to speak, because part of what I say falls very far outside my own knowledge. But it is a thought I need to share.

The adults who were victims of abuse at the hands of clergy, when they appear on television and in the newspapers, refer to themselves and are referred to by the reporters quite often as “survivors.” This is true, I have noticed of people who have at one time or another been victims of many crimes—though most often sexual ones.

I am concerned that this is difficult to reconcile with being a Christian. My fear is that permanently identifying oneself as a survivor sounds better than saying “victim” (and may help with psychological healing) but still leaves the focus on what was done to a person. In the end, we are called to forgive our enemies, and I can’t reconcile all this “survivor” talk with any sort of forgiveness in the heart.

It is perfectly true that I have never undergone what these poor people have, and I don’t want anyone to think for one moment that I hate the actions of the abusers any less than you do. The criminals must be punished, and the victims must be helped to the point where they have healed as fully as is possible. But none of that changes the obligation that the victims must ultimately forgive the Paul Shanleys and John Geoghans—and even Cardinal Laws—of the world. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” contains no subordinate clause exempting those who suffered something really terrible. These are the only terms on which we are offered forgiveness.

I would very much like to be shown why my discomfort is not well-founded.


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