Mark Reidy: forgiving abusers is our duty

15 Oct 2008

By The Record

“I hope he rots in Hell!” is the most common response Donald Nohs hears when he tells people about his childhood experience of being sexually abused by a priest.


Mark Reidy


This is then followed by confusion, and sometimes offence, when Nohs explains that he has forgiven the priest and, in fact, prays for him.
In his book, My Story of Forgiveness, Nohs acknowledges that his decision was an extremely difficult one to make, but he believed as a Christian it was one that he needed to fulfil.
“Forgiveness and reparation are hard to understand if I stay self-centred”, he writes, but “when I put Jesus in the centre of my life, I do understand.”
It is almost the ultimate test of our Christian walk; how, in our hearts, do we treat those who are guilty of child sexual offences? In our humanity it is one of the few issues that, not surprisingly, unites most people.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t respond to the act itself with the righteous anger that it deserves, but once our spontaneous emotional response has subsided, are we able to, or do we even attempt to, separate the sin from the sinner? A popular, newly released TV series banks its success on the fact that most people in society are either unable or unwilling to do so.
Dexter is yet another police/forensic drama, but one with a twist. Dexter, the main character, is a blood-spatter specialist with the Miami Police Department who is very good at what he does.
The problem is, Dexter sees himself as a vigilante and he tracks down perpetrators in his spare time and instigates his own sense of justice. Not surprisingly in the first episode, Dexter kidnaps a man who is responsible for the abuse and murder of young children and takes him to the scene of his crimes and watches the man break down. “I couldn’t help myself”, he confesses with a whimper. “Neither can I”, responds Dexter and what follows is gruesome revenge, which author Jeff Lindsay says viewers will be able to relate to. He believes that there is a part within each of us that can connect with Dexter’s desire for payback. 
As a father of three young children I dare not even allow myself to venture into the depths of emotion that such a topic stirs up within me, which may indicate a truth, at least for me, in Lindsay’s words.
It is why Donald Noh’s choice to forgive his perpetrator causes me to take stock of exactly how I measure up in my own journey to Christ-centredness. It is a question we cannot answer for anyone but ourselves, as we do not know the heart behind another’s reaction.
However it is one that could serve as a gauge of self-revelation in demonstrating exactly how far away we are from the perfection of God’s love. Our union with Christ has called us to a Divine love that embraces all humanity, whether friend or foe.
He has called us to love the paedophile, the murderer or those who have hurt us the most, with a love that is beyond our own emotions. It is not a call to accept their behaviour, but to recognise God’s creation in the human beings behind these atrocities. It is a call to live out Jesus’ most challenging invitation to “love your enemy”.