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.






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