My friend Anthony Sacramone of the Strange Herring blog posted a rare serious article today, expressing his dismay over recent statements by Father Benedict Groeschel, with whom he’s personally acquainted. Father Groeschel told the National Catholic Register that victims of child sexual abuse—as young as 14—are often “the seducer.”

Mr. Sacramone says:

I have no great need to defend Catholic clergy or (heaven help up) the bishops (whose skulls, as John Chrysostom stated, pave the floor of hell). I’m not on the road to Rome, despite the best efforts of some very smart, devout, and good men. Nor do I think the sheer awfulness of what Groeschel said in this one interview should be defended in any way, shape, or form. But the man is 79 years old. Take the “excuse” about his recently hitting his head for what it’s worth (I do wonder why he would agree to an interview at all if he was not himself). About eight years ago, he was hit by a car and almost died; before that, he suffered a serious heart attack. In other words, this is a man no longer playing at the top of his game.

I don’t have anything more to add on that subject. But I note that one of Father Groeschel’s lifelong vocations has been counseling. That’s a valuable calling, but it seems to me it has its inherent dangers. The French proverb, “To understand all is to forgive all,” may work very well in ordinary situations. But not in every situation. Christians need to understand that there is such a thing as evil.

It’s easy—especially in our own time—to trivialize the issue of forgiveness. The words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” often lose their original punch. Part of Christ’s point (it seems to me) is that when we’re ruminating on the outrages others have committed against us, we need to realize that we to have done true and lasting damage ourselves. Their sin against us was real, and needs forgiving, but ours is also real and must not be brushed away with rationalizations like, “I was only joking,” or “I was under a lot of pressure.”

The modern person with his or her high sense of self-esteem understands Christ to mean, “Remember that the other person’s sin is just as trivial as yours, and I never even noticed your sin, buddy.”

This attitude even gets translated into law. We saw a clear example recently in Norway, where the mass murderer Breivik (I refuse to use his full name) was sentenced to 21 years (it should be noted that the sentence can be recycled indefinitely) for the murder of 77 people, most of them children. Americans generally puzzled over this sentence, and puzzled even more at the considerable pride the Norwegians took in this demonstration of their “enlightened” justice system.

Norway is no longer a very religious country, but it remains a Christian country in terms of traditions and attitudes. This cultural Christianity, however, is not orthodox or historical Christianity, but a modern psychological Christianity which embraces the kind of misunderstanding of forgiveness I’m talking about.

In the view of most Norwegians, there is no substantial difference between the murderer and the murdered. All are equally victims of whatever accident, physical or emotional, damaged Breivik’s mind and forced an essentially good person (for all people are good in this theology) to commit such an aberrant act.

Thus justice itself is twisted by theological error. This trivialization of sin, the idea that sin is forgiveable because it’s not really serious in the first place, makes a mockery of the cross of Jesus Christ. Such a theology is ultimately cruel, because there is no need—and therefore no place—in it for grace.

The modern person, in his arrogance, “forgives” in a shallow manner because he cannot face confrontation with evil, in himself or in others. We need to listen to the words of One who had no such problem: “Her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

 

Lars Walker is the author of several published fantasy novels, the latest of this is an e-book, Troll Valley.