WHAT’S MISSING? Alcoholics Anonymous Offers an Answer By Bishop Peter Christensen

September 7, 2018

WHAT’S MISSING? Alcoholics Anonymous Offers an Answer

By Bishop Peter Christensen

“Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcoming, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

In light of the recent news regarding the Catholic Church in the United States, there seems to be something missing. As past crimes of abuse and more recent cover-ups are once again brought to light, confusion and frustration are a rekindled response in the hearts of the Christian faithful.

It seems to me that our approach to the healing of the atrocities committed is missing any kind of statement of sorrow and/or apology by the one who is the known perpetrator. Seldom does there seem a known public admission of guilt, nor personal apology, asking for forgiveness from those whom they have harmed by their actions. Instead others seem to be offering forgiveness on behalf of the person who has committed the crimes; and in doing so, makes the apology one step removed from the responsibility of the truly guilty party.

Bringing this into a slightly more familiar domestic example: It’s as if a mother, when recognizing her husband has harmed their child, offers to the child an apology for the actions of the father.  Obviously, the forgiveness sought should come from the father himself. What better line of communication and opportunity for healing if the latter is followed?

In the past, when I have met with those who have been abused by a member of the clergy, I so wish that the abuser could hear the pain caused by their actions on the victim.  I wish that the member of the clergy could ask for forgiveness and make clear his desire to make amends for his behavior.  As bishop, I can offer an apology for the actions of the priest or deacon who has caused such harm, offering my compassion and counseling for all they have suffered. But, at the same time, I am painfully aware that the victim needs to hear these words directly, when at all possible, from the abuser himself. Of course, these words must be truly contrite and must be followed with actions, representing true contrition by the changing of one’s behavior in the life and the consequences for their action that may follow.

The Twelve Step of Alcoholics Anonymous makes this wisdom clear to the lives of those who have harmed others due to their addictions.

After reflecting on Steps 5, 8 and 9, I have come to believe that if these steps were followed in every instance where people have been hurt by another, there would be greater healing.

Step 5: (We) admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step 8: (We) made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9: (We) made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Perhaps the Act of Contrition in our own faith, seeking forgiveness for our sins, could be emphasized as not merely words to recite, but as a command to be followed for forgiveness.  Emphasis should be on the fact that the one confessing is aware of his or her sins, takes ownership of them, confesses them and makes amends to resolve an outcome that prevents the sins from being repeated.   

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. 

Amen - so be it!

Unfortunately, we live in a less than perfect world.   However, I do believe our world would be a better place if we would apologize directly to the person we have harmed. I know in my own life doing so offers much greater healing and peace.

It’s not easy, but it is always right. “Please Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive the trespasses of others.”

Paraphrasing St. Teresa of Calcutta:

The first to apologize is the bravest.

The first to forgive is the strongest.

And the first to move on is the happiest.


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