SNAP Update : How about a One Year Moratorium on “forgiveness” Talk in Clergy Abuse Cases?

Hamilton and Griffin on Rightsi
July 6, 2015

Here’s a modest (and admittedly unusual) suggestion to help prevent sex crimes in churches: How about a one year moratorium on “forgiveness” talk in clergy abuse cases?

I can already hear the chorus of objections. “What? You can’t be serious! Forgiveness is wonderful and healing and Christian!”

It’s true. Forgiveness is all of this and more. (Witness the salutary effects of the forgiveness shown by loved ones of the recent South Carolina church shooting.)

But it’s also sometimes a distraction from more pressing business. It’s sometimes exploited by self-serving officials who want to “turn the page” and “move on” from still-simmering scandals.

And it’s sometimes almost force-fed to victims, church staff and church members who should actually be focusing on proven prevention steps first.

Consider just a handful of examples.


A decade ago, Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann “asked parishioners to forgive Fr. Matthew Bagert who, four days earlier, was arrested on charges of child pornography possession.” “When one fails, we also believe in forgiveness,” Grahmann said. “I ask that you open your arms and welcome him back. That’s what Jesus would have done.”


“Each person in this diocese has a moral and civic duty. It’s to help police and prosecutors learn the full truth about the charges against Fr. Matthew Bagert. Don’t even think about forgiveness. Think about what you may know or suspect or have seen or heard about possible misdeeds or crimes by Fr. Bangert. And if anything at all comes to mind, call law enforcement officials immediately so that justice may be done and innocence may be protected.”


Renee Gamby was abused as a child at Sovereign Grace Ministries in Maryland. (It’s an evangelical network with close ties to Southern Baptist Convention officials.) Six months after the abuse, she said she was re-victimized by a “reconciliation” meeting church staff organized with her abuser “as if a three-year-old was supposed to forgive the perpetrator.”

I was absolutely terrified,” she recalls vividly at age 24. “As soon as I could, I crawled under my mom’s chair.”


“Renee, we applaud your courage. We are so, so sorry for your suffering. We’ll do all we can to help you and your family recover. But first, we’ve got to do all we can to make sure those who committed and concealed these crimes are brought to justice in secular courts so this horror won’t be repeated.”

* * * * *

For years, clergy have drilled into millions the moral imperative of forgiveness. Therapists have taught millions the practical benefits of forgiveness. Friends and family, from first-hand experience, have told millions of the value of forgiveness.

So if – out of caution – church officials and members take a moratorium on talking forgiveness, only in cases of clergy sexual abuse and misdeeds, it’s not as if all of us will forget how good and important this precept is.

And we might use that space, time and energy to put “first things first,” by practicing an even more pressing precept – prevention.


Church officials would forego “healing services” for a while. Instead, they would do “outreach services” and make sure their flocks understand that they should seek out others who may have seen, suspected or suffered abuse or might have information that could help prove or disprove the accusations.

Church officials would avoid issuing statements to the media pleading for forgiveness. Instead they’d issue statements pleading for help so that police and prosecutors could quickly get to the bottom of the allegations.

Church officials would stop sending carefully-crafted letters to congregants giving self-serving advice about forgiveness. (“Please pray for us and forgive us for any mistakes we may have made in this situation.”) Instead, they’d write congregants giving practical advice about outreach. (“Please think of families who used to attend here and suddenly stopped coming. Call or visit them and ask if any of them were hurt.”)

Privately and individually, I hope victims forgive those who hurt them, directly and indirectly. Publicly and collectively, however, I hope church officials will just try – even for a year – to put stopping predators ahead of forgiving them.








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