But Doesn't the Church Preach Forgiveness?

April 24, 2017

 

One of the common questions that I receive is why does the diocese (name yours here if you want) preach forgiveness and then doesn't forgive? For example, (this is not related to an actual case, but is used as an example for a general discussion) someone has a long ago, one-time criminal record for using cocaine, learns that he or she may not volunteer in a parish religious education program. It seems the diocese is preaching one thing and doing another. If God forgives the parent who was sentenced to prison time or even probation, finished the sentence ten years ago, turned his life around, is going to church, bringing up children and now wants to volunteer for the religious education program, why does he or she receive a notice that says "no". How can an institute that preaches forgiveness do such a thing, isn't that hypocritical? 

 

The answer is simple: God forgives, the world does not.  What would it take for the local newspaper who wants to disparage the Church for her stand on abortion to write an article: "Ex-con teaches religious education at local Catholic parish." Nothing! Now there are microwave trucks and live reports outside of the church hall on Sunday morning. The reporter sticks a microphone in front of the pastor, chases down the rehabilitated parent, informs others parents of  the volunteer's past and reports to her audience that a person who served time in prison for criminal behavior is now teaching the faith.  

 

If we lived in a perfect world, a truly rehabilitated ex-con, for example, would be fine, but we don't live in such a world. We live in a fallen world where many have weaknesses, agendae and passions. Some may have pure intentions, some not and the Church has to take all of this into account. Further, the world we live in may not think in terms of forgiveness. For example, the diocese may forgive the person and understand that he or she will never re-offend, but will the insurance company? Actually, no, neither will the media. 

 

Many years ago, I was walking through Boston and a reporter for a local TV station was doing one of those man on the street interviews. She asked me a question for which I had no clue what the answer was. This was not something like "What is the capital of Wyoming?" This was a question more like: "What is your opinion of the practice of Pakkoruotsi?" That was not the question, but it was equally obscure to me. I could not possibly give an opinion, I had no idea of the subject in the slightest. The reporter kept asking me for an opinion. I kept saying I had no idea and yet she continued to prod and I continued to refuse. You can just guess what kind of ethics we were dealing with when she was actually looking for me to give an opinion on something that I told her I had not the slightest idea of what she was speaking.

 

I have wondered for years, how many others have given an opinion in similar circumstances just to be on TV. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel turned this into an art form in a regular segment where people are asked questions about their opinions of actions that have yet to happen or never happened. Jimmy Kimmel is a comedian and his audience knows this is comedy. The reporter was serious. If she represents the kind of ethics one can find among reporters, are you going to trust one to respect a person's record of successful rehabilitation in any environment in a spirit of forgiveness especially if he or she is antagonistic to the Church? That would be intensely unwise. 

 

This means, by the way, that the diocesan policy is not only protecting the diocese, it is by default, protecting the prospective volunteer. 

 

So, it is true that God forgives and the Church represents God, but the world does not forgive and the Church has to work in the world, even though she is not of it.

 

St Paul taught that we must be as gentle as doves, but as wise as serpents.  

 

As much as a person may be severely angry or disappointed that because of a past infraction he or she cannot volunteer or work for the Church, the problem is not the Church is not forgiving, it is the world is both not so kind and is by definition antagonistic to the Church, especially because she takes unpopular positions in the world. 

 

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