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:

I have a roommate who is very angry with his mother.  It seems to me that he has built up a story on his mother that is exaggerated, in other words, not entirely true.  What do you suggest I do to help him forgive?

First, it would be best to have him think as carefully and as rationally as possible to sort out what is true and what is false regarding the mother’s actions.  He needs to take a courageous view of the truth of the mother’s actual injustice.   Once this occurs, he should be able to see the exact injustices in which the mother engaged.  Your roommate then can pick out one incident and forgive his mother for that one.  Then he can move to another incident.  Little by little, he may forgive so that his resentment lessens and he can consider approaching his mother with a deeper sense of her inherent worth.

For additional information, see What Is Forgiveness?

What are the different meanings to the word “forget” when we say, “Forgive and forget”?

I think people usually mean this: Do not let the previous injustice get in the way of your relationship now.  It does not means this: Do not remember the other person’s weaknesses so that you are vulnerable to continued injustices.  In other words, “forget” means this: Remember in new ways, without deep anger, and watch your back.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

I am growing impatient.  I have asked my partner for forgiveness and it is not forthcoming.  I have been waiting for weeks.  Do you have some advice for me?

The advice I can give at this point is patience.  Forgiving is the other person’s decision and that person may need more time.  Also, the person may not be convinced of your apology.  Have you done what you can to make up for the injustice?  This may help lower the other’s anger and lead to forgiveness for you.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

Forgiveness can change the world — and YOU

From Dr. Robert Enright –

“I come to you today with an idea.  Ideas can lift up or tear down.  They can be conduits for good or for great evil.  Having studied the idea of forgiveness for the past 33 years, I am convinced that to date, the world has missed one of its greatest opportunities: to understand, nurture, and bring forth the idea of forgiveness within the human heart, within families, schools, workplaces, houses of worship, communities, nations, and between nations.

“Given the scientifically-supported findings across a wide array of hurting people across the globe, it is now obvious to me that forgiveness is an answer to the darkness, the injustice, the evil that can suddenly cascade down upon a person, overwhelming, devastating the inner world of that person who is caught off guard by the unfair treatment. When this happens, resentment can burst forth in the human heart, grow there, and become the unwanted guest that sours outlooks and relationships.
Resentments destroy; forgiveness builds up.

“Forgiveness is the strongest response against the ravages of resentment that I have ever seen. Forgiveness as an insight that all people have worth can stop the march of the madness, the cruelty, the acrimony dead in their tracks.  Forgiveness as a free choice to offer goodness when others refuse to offer it back can shine a light in the darkness and destroy evil. Yes, forgiveness can destroy evil because the light of forgiveness is stronger than any darkness and while some scoff and laugh at that, those who have the courage to try tell me that forgiveness is the over-comer, the defeater of a life being lived with bitterness and revenge-seeking.

“Forgiveness is an answer to injustice.  Forgiveness is a cure for the potentially devastating effects of injustice.  Forgiveness holds out the hope of living with joy.” 

Forgiveness can change the world–and YOU. How will you now contribute to this new idea? Read the rest of Dr. Enright’s “big picture” blog essay in the current issue of Psychology Today then send us your comments.

Does forgiveness place the burden of healing onto the victim?

When someone is deeply hurt by others’ injustices, some critics claim that forgiveness now puts the burden for change onto the victim. The claim is that this is unfair. If someone damages a knee while working out, does the surgery and subsequent rehab put the burden for change onto the victim of the injury and is this so unfair that we should ask the person not to visit the doctor, not to undergo surgery, and not to engage in rehab? Asking a victim of injustice to forgive is not a burden, but a setting-free of the pains of resentment.