Rome, Italy – At the direction of Pope Francis himself, 190 of the Catholic Church’s highest-ranking officials gathered at the Vatican in Rome last month for a 4-day meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church.” Participants included 114 presidents of bishops’ conferences or their delegates, representatives from 14 Eastern churches in communion with Rome, female and male leaders of religious orders, the chiefs of several Vatican congregations, victim advocates, and others.After an introduction by the Holy Father, the very first keynote speaker at the meeting addressed what the Church–particularly those in attendance–must do to help the victims heal from the effects of the abuse they endured: implement the healing process developed and scientifically-tested by Dr. Robert Enright, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin.
“For this portion of my presentation, I will rely heavily on Dr. Robert Enright, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, and the pioneer in the social scientific study of forgiveness,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila (Philippines). “We are collaborating with him on the programme of forgiveness in the Philippines. In fact, in this very moment there is a session among Catholic School Educators in Manila on “Pain, wound and forgiveness”.
“According to Dr. Enright,” Cardinal Tagle continued, “one concern that we must address is: Once justice is served, how do we help the victims to heal from the effects of the abuse? Justice is necessary but by itself does not heal the broken human heart. If we are to serve the victims and all those wounded by the crisis, we need to take seriously their wound of resentment and pain and the need for healing.”
Demonstrating his remarkable comprehension of Dr. Enright’s 20-Step pathway to healing, Cardinal Tagle added, “Resentment can be like a disease, that slowly and steadily infects people, until their enthusiasm and energy are gone. With increasing stress, they are prone to heightened anxiety and depression, lowered-self-images, and interpersonal conflicts that arise from the inner brokenness.
“Yet, before we even raise the issue of asking the victims to forgive as part of their healing, we must clarify that we are not suggesting that they should just let it all go, excuse the abuse, just move on. No. Far from it. Without question, we know that when victims come to a moment of forgiving others who have harmed them, a deeper healing takes place and the understandable resentments that build up in their hearts are reconciled. We know that forgiveness is one powerful and even scientifically supported pathway for eliminating pain, resentment and the human heart.
“We as the Church should continue to walk with those profoundly wounded by abuse building trust, providing unconditional love, and repeatedly asking for forgiveness in the full recognition that we do not deserve that forgiveness in the order of justice but can only receive it when it is bestowed as gift and grace in the process of healing.”
In an interview with America: The Jesuit Review following Cardinal Tagle’s talk, Dr. Enright said his research has found that survivors of trauma, including sexual abuse, report lower rates of depression when they include forgiveness in their healing process.
“Injustice is a wound,” Dr. Enright said, “but what happens after that wound is ever greater woundedness. The injustice leads to lots of complications, and the basic complication is what I’ve come to call resentment–resentment that can manifest itself years later in depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.
While forgiving the offender can help those suffering from the fallout oftrauma, Dr. Enright cautioned that forgiveness can never be expected from those who experience abuse, merely offered as a choice.
“It is not excusing; it is not forgetting; it is not throwing justice under the bus; it may or may not be reconciling,” he said.
According to Vatican News, the goal of the Feb. 21-24 meeting at the Vatican was “that all of the Bishops clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors. Pope Francis knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response.”
The 61-year-old Cardinal Tagle has been the Archbishop of Manila (where he was born) since December 12, 2011, and became a cardinal less than a year later. He has worked with Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), since the two met at the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness, organized by the IFI in July, 2017.
Cardinal Tagle is personally leading an initiative in the Philippines to establish Forgiveness Education Programs in every Catholic school throughout the country’s more than 7,000 East Asian islands. Curriculum Guides developed by Dr. Enright for students in pre-k through 12th grade will form the foundation of those programs.♥
Read the full text of Cardinal Tagle’s presentation – The Smell of the Sheep: Knowing their pain and healing their wounds is at the core of the shepherd’s task.
1) Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness and Forgiveness Education Programs:
- 20-Step Forgiveness Healing Process
- Forgiveness Education and Therapy
- Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides
- Feb. 21 – Feb. 24 Daily Program
- List of All Participants
- Text of All Presentations (plus the concluding speech by Pope Francis – in your choice of 8 languages)
I see skepticism in people whenever I mention the healing power of forgiveness. How can I make forgiveness an acceptable part of conversations?
It may help if people see that forgiveness is a moral virtue, as are justice, patience, courage, and love. We exercise justice in families and groups all the time. You can ask, “Why, then, can’t we make room for this other moral virtue, forgiveness?” It would be helpful if you then are attuned to the others’ misconceptions about what, exactly, constitutes this moral virtue of forgiveness: Do they see forgiving as excusing or ignoring justice? Clearing up misconceptions usually makes forgiveness more acceptable.
For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.
Forgiveness can be misunderstood and dismissed for the wrong reasons.
A colleague, Megan Feldman Bettencourt, has written an important article in Harper’s Bazaar entitled “How Forgiveness Has Been Weaponized Against Women.” The gist of the article is that as people misunderstand the actual meaning of forgiveness, they can so discourage people from forgiving that emotional healing is blocked. In the case of sexual abuse of women, as Ms. Feldman Bettencourt points out, the “forgiver” is supposed to refrain from reporting the abuse and is expected to go back into the unwanted relationship.
In her article, Ms. Feldman Bettencourt gives stark examples of women who, in the name of forgiveness, think that they must keep the abuse against them secret, thus personally pardoning the offender. One woman who did stand up for justice (not condoning or pardoning) was shunned by her support group because that group misunderstood what forgiveness is. Forgiveness does not abandon the quest for justice. The author’s call is for a clear and accurate definition of forgiveness so that it can exist side-by-side with justice-seeking and not block emotional healing. True forgiveness can enhance the forgiver’s well-being.
Another Example of Weaponizing Forgiveness:
I once was asked to help an organization set up small groups focused on forgiveness in the workplace because there was high tension among the workers. A Human Relations specialist in the company was convinced that adding a level of forgiveness into the workplace would be one strong way of diminishing the conflict and increasing productivity. When we met with the owner of that company, it took him less than five minutes to dismiss the specialist’s idea. “No. Forgiveness is inappropriate here,” he said with cold confidence. “Forgiveness asks too much of my workers,” was his reply.
When we asked him how this is so, he quickly responded, “Look, when there is conflict in our workplace, this is an emotional pain. Forgiveness adds another layer of pain to my workers and so why would I impose this second pain on them? Forgiveness is quite a struggle and we don’t need that at this time.” And that was the end of the specialist’s idea, which as of this writing has not been implemented… and the conflicts at that company continue with no end in sight. What the owner did not understand is this: When there is physical injury, sometimes surgery is needed. Yes, the surgery is an added burden, but it is temporary and restores what is broken. It is the same with forgiveness: When the heart is broken, we sometimes need surgery of the heart to restore emotional health.
Ms. Feldman Bettencourt sees how the weaponizing of forgiveness can actually hurt women who are trying to heal from sexual abuse. I have seen firsthand how the weaponizing of forgiveness can keep workers from reducing acrimony and striving toward greater cooperation.
The moral of this essay is that to misunderstand forgiveness is to keep people from a scientifically-supported way of reducing resentment and getting on with life in a healthier way. We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at our own peril. We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at the expense of others. It is time simply to define our terms — in this case forgiveness — and lay down the weaponizing against it.
This blog originally appeared in Psychology Today on October 08, 2018.
Criticisms of Forgiveness–3rd in a series: “Forgiveness Obscures for the Forgiver What Is Just or Unjust”
J. Safer (1999) presented a case of family dysfunction in which “forgiveness” plays a major role in perpetuating deep injustice: Two middle-aged parents ask their adult daughter to “forgive and forget” her brother’s sexual abuse toward her. The daughter, of course, is aghast at the parents’ apparent attempts to downplay and deny the offense. The parents in this case study do not seem aware of the enormity of the offense. Their quest for forgiveness is an attempt at distortion of reality, a cover-up for their son, and oppression of their daughter.
If J. Safer (1999) had shown this as a case of pseudo-forgiveness in which people are deliberately distorting the meaning of forgiveness for some unspecified gain, we would have no problem with the case or the analysis. Safer, however, used the case as an illustration of the dangers of actual forgiveness.
In our experience, true forgiveness helps people see the injustice more clearly, not more opaquely. As a person breaks denial, examines what happened, and allows for a period of anger, he or she begins to label the other’s behavior as “wrong” or “unfair.”
The parents in the case described here, however, have minimized what is wrong with their son’s behavior. They are using pseudo-forgiveness as a weapon. Certainly, therapists should be aware of such distorted thinking in a client or patient. The therapist, however, need not condemn genuine forgiveness because a client twists its meaning.
In sum, forgiveness is no obstacle to justice. Forgiving acts do not perpetuate injustice or prevent social justice from occurring. Forgiveness may thwart attempts at extracting punishment for emotional pain, but this usually turns into a gift for the offender and a release of potentially hurtful anger for the forgiver.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5161-5175). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Safer, J. Forgiving and Not Forgiving. New York, NY: Avon Books.
“I was angry, livid. . .” Murakami admitted. “I said to myself, ‘Let me find the punk, I’m gonna take care of him.’”
When Cabezas was not initially charged with causing the crash, Murakami’s life went into a tailspin of depression.
“I was a walking zombie. I sold my business, sat on the beach every day. I put my Bible down. I didn’t want anything to do with God. Nothing”
Three years later, Cabezas was finally charged with 2 counts of vehicular manslaughter. But something happened when Murakami finally saw Cabezas in court. He wasn’t the monster Murakami had envisioned. That’s when this father’s fight for justice turned into a father’s fight to forgive.
“I started preaching to myself on forgiveness. Even though I never met this kid, I started forgiving him for what he did,” Murakami says. “After we met, I knew he was suffering as much as I was.”
Cabezas was facing up to 30 years in prison if convicted. Murakami shocked the court, however, by asking the judge not to send Cabezas to jail.
“If he goes to prison for 30 years, everyone’s going to forget about him. Everyone’s going to forget about Cindy and Chelsea,” Murakami said to the judge. “What if he and I went out to schools and talked to young people?”
With the court’s consent, the two men went to hundreds of schools across the country, speaking to more than a half-million kids about the dangers of speeding. But Murakami also used those presentations to help kids understand that even after tragic mistakes, they too could find redemption like Cabezas.
“I didn’t want to waste his life. He came from a good family. We’ve all made mistakes,” Murakami added.
Murakami and Cabezas also founded a not-for-profit organization called Safe Teen Driver that includes a unique driver education program offered free to teens who learn by driving actual professional go-karts on a professional track while practicing skills that could save their lives. Parents are required to participate and learn the importance of their role in developing a safe teen driver.
Cabezas went on to become a successful real estate agent in Texas before dying of cancer last summer. Murakami went to the funeral and spoke from the pulpit about the importance of forgiveness.
Read the full story: Tampa man’s quest for justice instead becomes lesson in forgiveness
Watch a short video from WPST-TV 10News, Tampa, FL about Bruce Murakami’s life-changing decision to forgive.