How Sorry Is Sorry Enough? In Some Hearts, the Church Will Never Find Forgiveness (UPDATED)

How Sorry Is Sorry Enough? In Some Hearts, the Church Will Never Find Forgiveness (UPDATED) October 20, 2013
Cardinal Tagle

On October 18, the Archbishop of Manila made a public apology for the sins of the Church.

And once again, the perennial non-forgivers used the occasion of his apology as an opportunity to spew hatred against the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, speaking to about 5,000 attendees of the Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization, expressed contrition for the sins, the hurts that the Church has inflicted on non-Catholics and non-Christians.  According to a report in the Catholic Herald, Cardinal Tagle apologized for those times when the Church has failed to recognize a need:

“We want to say, we want to ask forgiveness to the poor that have been neglected, the hungry, the thirsty, that we did not see or hear. We want to ask forgiveness from the women who have been degraded, dehumanised”.

He continued his apology, asking forgiveness for the children without care, for orphans, widows and the vulnerable.  He begged forgiveness, too, from those who “hurt us”. He added:

“We want to say we forgive you, we love you, and we hope we can start to build a world of love, justice, truth, and peace, not just for ourselves but for the next generations”.

And then the comboxes exploded. 

The perennially incensed enemies of the Church cried for vengeance—demanding that the Catholic Church apologize for the Spanish Inquisition; for the Galileo affair; for poor financial stewardship and misuse of parish funds; for pedophiles’ sins against children; and for how American troops treated Philippine women in bars during World War II.

BUT SEE:  There is nothing—I repeat, NOTHING—that could appease some of these folks. 

Thirteen years ago, Pope John Paul II established a worldwide “Day of Pardon”.  On that day he offered public apologies for the sins of the Catholic Church “committed in the service of truth” and because Christians “have at times given in to intolerance”.

But Pope John Paul II was continually criticized, despite his repeated apologies on behalf of the Church.  He labeled pedophilia “an appalling sin” that has no place in the Church.  In England, he apologized to the victims and their families, expressing his profound sense of solidarity and concern.  He said he had been “deeply grieved by the fact that priests, whose vocation it is to help people live holy lives, have themselves caused such suffering and scandal to the young.”

The abuse crisis was a wake-up call; and safeguards have been put in place to ensure that this cannot happen again.  Meanwhile, the Church continues to provide financial assistance and care to those who were victims of abuse during the clergy scandals of the past.

But there are many people who, for some reason of their own, do not wish to accept an apology.

Perhaps they are trapped in victimhood.  Like the woman who loves to complain about her indolent husband or her wayward children, they long for the attention that their martyr status invokes.

Perhaps they see a financial opportunity.  The attorney who builds his practice on clergy cases may perceive the Church as having deep pockets.  It may matter little to him that the riches he amasses would have been spent, but for his litigation, on feeding the poor and educating the children and nursing the sick.

Perhaps—and this may be the biggest temptation of all—they don’t want to forgive the Church because they don’t want to obey the Church.  People in this group include those who prefer to continue in sin, such as sexual sins (premarital sex or extramarital infidelity, homosexuality, pornography), rather than returning to the Church.  The group includes those who love to linger under the covers on Sunday morning, rather than making an effort to get to weekly Mass.

To these groups, and to all who have been injured, let me extend my apology along with Cardinal Tagle’s.  Things have happened in the Church, as in the rest of the world, which are truly reprehensible.

But I ask you:  Will you accept that apology?  Or will you wear your grudge like a badge of honor, embracing malignity, residing in that place of bitterness all your days?

Because if that’s your plan, the one who will suffer the most is you.

*     *     *     *     *

UPDATE:  Now this is exactly what I was talking about.  

Those of you who have commented or contacted me with criticisms of former Boston archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law:  Please consider whether it’s time to let it rest.  He made mistakes, as have we all; but he is a man of God.  It is God’s purview to judge his heart–it is most definitely not your role.  Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

You may want to check out my earlier post regarding Cardinal Law.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Kelly Thatcher

    Perfectly put, Kathy. There is nothing so liberating as forgiveness.

  • Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us.


  • IRVCath

    I think some are incensed that the only ones apologizing are the comparatively innocent. John Paul, as we all know, is literally a Saint. Cardinal Tagle, likewise, does not seem to have the particular sins in question under his name. But how about Cardinal Mahony – when has he apologized? Or Cardinal Law?

    Look, I’m not justifying their attempts to paint the whole church black for the misdeeds of what merely are some of its members. But is it not interesting that the only people apologizing are those who have little to apologize for?

    • kathyschiffer

      In a statement and apology, Law said, “To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness.”

      You have helped to make my point. He has apologized more than once.

      • kathyschiffer

        Here’s Cardinal Mahony’s full statement:

        With the upcoming release of priests’ personnel files in the Archdiocese’s long struggle with the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, my thoughts and prayers turn toward the victims of this sinful abuse.

        Various steps toward safeguarding all children in the Church began here in 1987 and progressed year by year as we learned more about those who abused and the ineffectiveness of so-called “treatments” at the time. Nonetheless, even as we began to confront the problem, I remained naïve myself about the full and lasting impact these horrible acts would have on the lives of those who were abused by men who were supposed to be their spiritual guides. That fuller awareness came for me when I began visiting personally with victims. During 2006, 2007 and 2008, I held personal visits with some 90 such victims.

        Those visits were heart-wrenching experiences for me as I listened to the victims describe how they had their childhood and innocence stolen from them by clergy and by the Church. At times we cried together, we prayed together, we spent quiet moments in remembrance of their dreadful experience; at times the victims vented their pent up anger and frustration against me and the Church.

        Toward the end of our visits I would offer the victims my personal apology — and took full responsibility — for my own failure to protect fully the children and youth entrusted into my care. I apologized for all of us in the Church for the years when ignorance, bad decisions and moral failings resulted in the unintended consequences of more being done to protect the Church — and even the clergy perpetrators — than was done to protect our children.

        I have a 3 x 5 card for every victim I met with on the altar of my small chapel. I pray for them every single day. As I thumb through those cards I often pause as I am reminded of each personal story and the anguish that accompanies that life story.

        The cards contain the name of each victim since each one is precious in God’s eyes and deserving of my own prayer and sacrifices for them. But I also list in parenthesis the name of the clergy perpetrator lest I forget that real priests created this appalling harm in the lives of innocent young people.

        It remains my daily and fervent prayer that God’s grace will flood the heart and soul of each victim, and that their life-journey continues forward with ever greater healing.

        I am sorry.

        • IRVCath

          My error, then. Though I will say some (not me) might not rest until Mahony or Law are in the penitentiary. Wrath is as tempting a vice as any other.

  • Fr. Denis Lemieux

    I think part of the issue, besides the things you say, is a larger cultural problem, in which we are unable to remember anything that happened more than five minutes ago. We have become, largely, like the ‘hero’ of the movie Memento, swept along with no other reality than ‘what just happened’.
    So, since Cardinals Law, Mahoney, JPII, Benedict XVI, and so on and so on and so on have apologized and (espeically in the latter case) initiated sweeping reforms to facilitate the removal of abusing priests from ministry more quickly… but it all happened longer ago than, say, the season premiere of Walking Dead… well, who can keep track of all that stuff? And reminders of what happened more than five minutes ago are met with great hostility and resentment – ‘stop making excuses!’ Weird, really.

    • niknac

      You apologize but you don’t change your behavior. The clerical establishment is still a homophobic, masogynistic, patronizing, gang of hypocrites, continuing to vilify Gays, subjugate women, ignore the plight of the sick and poor, while living in opulence and gathering of an evening together at Gay bath houses in Vatican neighborhoods.

      Forgiveness is for when you cease your predations and change your ways.

  • $50360981

    ” … Or will you wear your grudge like a badge of honor … ”

    I do this. Not about those scandals, but about personal things. It’s so hard not to, gives me such a feeling of righteousness, otherwise I would have to admit that I”m just as bad a sinner as “they” are … and we can see where that would lead …

    So I bet this is a big part of the eternal grudge factions.

  • Darren

    Hermes : What do we do when we break somebody’s window?

    Dwight : Pay for it?

    Hermes : Heavens, no! We apologize! With nice, cheap words.

    —Futurama (episode #312: The Route of All Evil)

  • kenofken

    So you finish your piece by offering an apology just after you characterize many of the injured as professional victims, grifters or disobedient – the same sort of backhanded “apology” often offered by church leaders, and you wonder why people are so bitter?

    For the purposes of this debate, let’s set aside the sins and crimes of centuries past. Let’s keep it focused on the most egregious contemporary crime, the abuse scandal. I’ve had people in forums pose the question “How many times must the Church apologize for this?” My answer: Once, if it were ever sincere. The apologies are less than meaningless because they’re of the “mistakes were made” variety and because there is no evidence of real contrition or intent to make amends, or even more fundamentally, to stop re-injuring.

    The attitudes and culture of leadership among bishops has not changed one iota since Law’s days. Yes, we have rafts of progressive sounding guidelines and safeguards, but all of it is meaningless because bishops don’t feel any sense of accountability or transparency. Time and time and time again, we come to find out that bishops played the loophole, or invented one, as a way to hide abuse or child pornography crimes from authorities. Just in the last year or two, we have seen cases come to light where bishops looked for reasons not to do the right thing. In Kansas City, the bishop considered the matter settled with an “internal investigation” based largely on an informal opinion by a cop parishioner that one limited set of pre-chosen images on a priests laptop were “probably not” criminal.

    In St. Paul, we have archdiocese officials who ignored years of flagrant warning signs about the predatory and inappropriate behavior of a priest. Years of truly alarming reports and behaviors known to bishops and vicar generals, but the decision was made to sit on that information because the priest at the time seemed to be able to confine his solitations of teenage boys to off-campus locations! Even now that the priest is in prison, the men who were in charge of him insist they did nothing wrong. What in any of this are we supposed to forgive? Nobody is sorry about anything except getting caught.

  • Cheryl

    Nice. Shame the victims of abuse. You’ve learned the lessons of the Church well.

  • rooster

    I think it’s important to remember that those who have sinned are obligated to apologize but they are not entitled to have their apology accepted. Those who have been sinned against are free to accept or reject said apology. The may be better or worse for accepting or rejecting that apology but it is their prerogative. Those who have offered an apology that has been rejected may need to accept the rejection of their apology as the penance due their sin, so to speak. If their apology was sincere, the best they can do at this point is resolve to not sin again, make such amends as are possible, whether appreciated as not, accept that they were not entitled to have their apology accepted and then get on with their own business: it’s might not be perfect but it’s simply the best they can do at this point.