Once upon a time, I had an alcoholic friend. We’ll call him “Newt”. Newt drank so much he ruined not one but two marriages and is now on his third. (In the midst of destroying his family twice, he also anointed himself High Commissar of Righteousness in attacking another alcoholic named “Bill” for his addictions. It was a pretty repulsive act of hypocrisy.) Eventually, “Newt” called on his Higher Power, became Catholic, and his sins were forgiven. This is our faith and we are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.
However, grace being grace and not magic, Newt now had a tough road ahead, learning how to humble himself and walk the straight and narrow, not just get dunked and then start returning (as Peter warns) to old sins like a dog to his vomit.
The problem was that Newt’s habits and associations exerted a strong tidal pull against him. This tidal pulls is what the Church calls “concupiscence”, the disordered appetites, darkened, intellect and weakened will that we still have to contend with after baptism. He himself was not exactly a modest man and the people of his Old Circle of friends kept telling him that he was a genius who needed to spearhead a National Movement to Fight Addiction. They would take him to dinner and toast his genius and Newt would join in the toasts.
Before you knew it, Newt was not quietly trying to expiate his sins and saying “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” while refusing to make excuses for his sins. Instead, he was explaining to his Old Circle that “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I drank far too much and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.” He then announced that he was appointing himself the Leader of the Moderate Drinking Movement and asked everybody in America to each send him one bottle of Jack Daniels so that he could show those profligate liberals how not to drink.
Some of us, who are quite willing to forgive his past sins as the Church has, do not for one moment think that it is at all wise to entrust a convert struggling with addiction and the abuses and temptations that go with it with THE VERY THING THAT DESTROYED HIM. It has nothing to do with refusing to forgive. It has everything to do with Jesus’ common sense warning that those who cannot be trusted in small things cannot be trusted in great things. “Newt”, by his own admission, confesses that his drunken addiction led him to twice do grave evil. Why on earth should any sane Catholic then feed that addiction again? It would be, I think, a grave sin to entrust him with the very thing he cannot responsibly use. That’s not “refusal to forgive”. It’s being wise as a serpent and innocent has a dove.