Leading up to this meeting, part of me was wondering, just how far this forgiveness stuff should go. And just how far down my craw the priest might try to “stuff it”. As a Christian there is the whole concept of love thy neighbor and turn the other cheek. But as a victim of sexual exploitation, and its renewed impact on my life, I am still pretty angry, and in no way ready to forgive my attacker or the member of the clergy who shielded his actions and allowed my abuser to continue.
I have struggled over the years with this, I have, at various times been willing to forgive the clergy member, but to my embarrassment I have never been willing to forgive my attacker.
I know that there are those who say that I, as a Christian, am required to forgive them. But my heart and mind scream in defiance at that idea. I have felt both shame and frustration because of this. I have wrestled with the tenants of my faith and how they apply to this situation. And I have never found the answer.
How do I forgive the unforgivable, and should I? What makes them so worthy of forgiveness when I am condemned to suffer the consequences of their actions?
I had a very frank discussion with my Priest. There were times it was graphic, times it was vague, times it was rude, times when I wonder how he heard me through the tears,
And I came away from that discussion feeling more at peace with myself than I have in a long while. It was such a relief to hear that forgiveness doesn’t have to mean “forgiving”. It can mean simply moving on to a point where you no longer hold bitterness in your heart. It can be as simple as getting to a place within yourself that you no longer care about the person who did the atrocities. That you no longer wish them dead, that you reach a point where they and their life just doesn’t matter to you either way.
This idea of forgiveness is new to me; it feels strange, foreign even. But if feels; possible. It means that forgiveness is flexible, that if my attacker’s actions or former actions are impacting my life right now, I don’t have to forgive them right now. But it also means that I may be in a position where I need to forgive him more than once, that as the consequences of my attack ebb and flow, I may have to forgive him over, and over. It means that I am not wrong when I say today that “I can’t forgive him”. It means I can be forgiven for not being able to forgive. Even more than that though, it means I have nothing to be forgiven for.
One of the most healing things that happened today in the meeting is when my current priest looked me straight in the eyes and said, in reference to his predecessors actions (or lack there of), “That was wrong. He had an obligation, and was legally required to report it.” “ I’m sorry that that happened to you, it never should have happened.” The fact that my church’s representative is not hiding behind platitudes, that there is an admission of wrong doing, even if it is not from the priest in question, was like an emancipation. It was the one thing I needed to hear to start forgiving the church.
Do I forgive my attacker? NO.
Do I forgive my former Priest who let the abuse continue? NO.
Do I forgive my church? Not yet, but I can see a time where I will; where the actions of one priest no longer taint the church as a whole for me. Will I ever forgive those two men for their actions? I don’t know, but I do know that for the first time I see the possibility that I might be able to; someday.