The Role of Forgiveness in the Process of Healing

Rome, Italy – At the direction of Pope Francis himself, 190 of the Catholic Church’s highest-ranking officials gathered at the Vatican in Rome last month for a 4-day meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church.” Participants included 114 presidents of bishops’ conferences or their delegates, representatives from 14 Eastern churches in communion with Rome, female and male leaders of religious orders, the chiefs of several Vatican congregations, victim advocates, and others.After an introduction by the Holy Father, the very first keynote speaker at the meeting addressed what the Church–particularly those in attendance–must do to help the victims heal from the effects of the abuse they endured: implement the healing process developed and scientifically-tested by Dr. Robert Enright, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin.

“For this portion of my presentation, I will rely heavily on Dr. Robert Enright, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, and the pioneer in the social scientific study of forgiveness,” said  Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila (Philippines). “We are collaborating with him on the programme of forgiveness in the Philippines. In fact, in this very moment there is a session among Catholic School Educators in Manila on “Pain, wound and forgiveness”.

“According to Dr. Enright,” Cardinal Tagle continued, “one concern that we must address is: Once justice is served, how do we help the victims to heal from the effects of the abuse? Justice is necessary but by itself does not heal the broken human heart. If we are to serve the victims and all those wounded by the crisis, we need to take seriously their wound of resentment and pain and the need for healing.”

Demonstrating his remarkable comprehension of Dr. Enright’s 20-Step pathway to healing, Cardinal Tagle added, “Resentment can be like a disease, that slowly and steadily infects people, until their enthusiasm and energy are gone. With increasing stress, they are prone to heightened anxiety and depression, lowered-self-images, and interpersonal conflicts that arise from the inner brokenness.

“Yet, before we even raise the issue of asking the victims to forgive as part of their healing, we must clarify that we are not suggesting that they should just let it all go, excuse the abuse, just move on. No. Far from it. Without question, we know that when victims come to a moment of forgiving others who have harmed them, a deeper healing takes place and the understandable resentments that build up in their hearts are reconciled. We know that forgiveness is one powerful and even scientifically supported pathway for eliminating pain, resentment and the human heart.

“We as the Church should continue to walk with those profoundly  wounded by abuse building trust, providing unconditional love, and repeatedly asking for forgiveness in the full recognition that we do not deserve that forgiveness in the order of justice but can only receive it when it is bestowed as gift and grace in the process of healing.”

In an interview with America: The Jesuit Review following Cardinal Tagle’s talk, Dr. Enright said his research has found that survivors of trauma, including sexual abuse, report lower rates of depression when they include forgiveness in their healing process.

“Injustice is a wound,” Dr. Enright said, “but what happens after that wound is ever greater woundedness. The injustice leads to lots of complications, and the basic complication is what I’ve come to call resentment–resentment that can manifest itself years later in depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.

While forgiving the offender can help those suffering from the fallout oftrauma, Dr. Enright cautioned that forgiveness can never be expected from those who experience abuse, merely offered as a choice.

“It is not excusing; it is not forgetting; it is not throwing justice under the bus; it may or may not be reconciling,” he said.

According to Vatican News, the goal of the Feb. 21-24 meeting at the Vatican was “that all of the Bishops clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors. Pope Francis knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response.”

One of the 16 books written by Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila (Philippines).

The 61-year-old Cardinal Tagle has been the Archbishop of Manila  (where he was born) since December 12, 2011, and became a cardinal less than a year later. He has worked with Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), since the two met at the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness, organized by the IFI in July, 2017.

Cardinal Tagle is personally leading  an initiative in the Philippines to establish Forgiveness Education Programs in every Catholic school throughout the country’s more than 7,000 East Asian islands.  Curriculum Guides developed by Dr. Enright for students in pre-k through 12th grade will form the foundation of those programs.

Read the full text of Cardinal Tagle’s presentation – The Smell of the Sheep: Knowing their pain and healing their wounds is at the core of the shepherd’s task.


Learn more:

1) Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness and Forgiveness Education Programs:

2) The Protection of Minors in the Church:

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