Virginia Barton

5 October 2018: On Forgiveness


5 October 2018


I know that in the twinkling of an eye,
all those thousands of sins would be consumed
as a drop of water cast into a blazing fire.”

– St Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul


Do you have a copy of Cruden’s, “The complete concordance to the Bible”? If you want to know if and where “oak trees,” for example, are mentioned in the Bible, Cruden’s will give you more than 13 references to them, chapter and verse. Forgiveness, forgiving, to forgive, has heaps more refs than oak trees.

For a start we need look no further than the Lord’s Prayer:

Forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.




If I do something wrong, a) I want to say sorry and b) I want to be forgiven. I can’t live comfortably with myself until I have done these two things and then made amends in some way.

If you read the Comments posted on last week’s Commonplace, Scandal, Disgrace, Fallout, you may remember that several of you made suggestions along those lines, and the subject was left somewhat up in the air. My last sentence read:

“But Forgiveness? For the most heinous crimes
committed against children and the vulnerable in society?”

It’s almost unimaginable: forgiving the crimes inflicted by such wretches on the innocent. It hardly bears thinking of. But we must think of forgiving and a way found to do it. Without forgiveness we are stuck in a black box with no exit. Without forgiveness we cannot move on, or find ways of preventing the repetition of these crimes.

And yes, try to help the perpetrators.


It’s easy enough for those of us who have never suffered abuse to talk about forgiveness. We can dish out advice and opinions and glibly say exactly as I have just said — we must forgive. It’s another thing altogether to accept that these criminals need our forgiveness (just as we need to give it): surely their actions have placed them beyond forgiveness?

Until they can show me true repentance and an avowal not to sin again, I am not prepared to forgive them.


I have stepped into shoes that don’t belong to me. Suddenly it is I who am the judge, I who decides the sentence.

We can never know the measure of a person’s repentance — neither is it any of our business.

However, for the benefit of those who feel lost and alienated from a church they loved and were loyal to; for those who suffered and still suffer as victims of clerical abuse and for their immediate families; for those who have “lost” their faith; and yes, for those who committed these crimes and must live with the knowledge for ever – for all their sakes, and ours, a way forward must be found.




Shortly after writing the above I discovered that Pope Francis has said it all in his “Letter to the People of God” written on August 20th this year. In succinct and truthful words he says everything I have been trying to put into my puny Commonplace!

Then I was given the quote at the top of this piece by Saint Thérèse, that “little” giant, about the mercy of Christ’s love for all sinners. Alas no room to include it – Pope Francis shall take precedence.

Here is the Introduction to his Letter:

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.

Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.

The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults…

Do find the rest, it’s terrific (click here). Then send me your views.





  • Harry P says on: October 5, 2018 at 1:36 am


    Thank you for these astute words, Virginia. They are much needed, especially now.

    Jesus put it simply: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:36-37).

    Easier said than done!

    My Italian grandmother used to say, “Forgive, but never forget.” That’s wrong, of course, and she held on to so many grudges as a result. I suppose our natural fear is that by forgiving we somehow condone a heinous crime. It takes real courage — and faith — to, as the old adage says, “Let go and let God.”

    • Ginny says on: October 5, 2018 at 2:06 pm


      Thank you those words Harry P.

      Forgiving and forgetting — two sides of the coin. Neither is easy but neither complete without the other, isn’t that so? Ginny

  • Coal-Filled Wellies says on: October 6, 2018 at 10:11 am


    This is extraordinary – the marvellous Corrie ten Boom.

    “It was 1947, and I’d come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth that they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.

    ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. And even though I cannot find a Scripture for it, I believe God then places a sign out there that says, ’NO FISHING ALLOWED.’

    The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a cap with skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush —- the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! That place was Ravensbruck, and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard — one of the most cruel guards.

    Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course — how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

    “You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me. “But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein,” — again the hand came out — “will you forgive me?”

    And I stood there — I whose sins had again and again been forgiven — and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could have been many seconds that he stood there — hand held out — but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

    For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart.

    But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

    And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust out my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

    “I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.

    [Holocaust Victim Forgives Captor, Citation: Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord (Berkley, 1978), pp. 53-55]

    • Ginny says on: October 6, 2018 at 3:00 pm


      Oh my goodness, Wellies — what a tremendous words. So sad, so powerful and so honest! Thank you for posting them — they deserve a Commonplace to themselves in case people miss them.

      Thank you again, Ginny

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