Friday, April 5, 2013

Pope Francis and Forgiveness For The Past

How to answer the riddle of forgiveness. Is someone’s plea for forgiveness a genuine expression of their contrition? Or can its mere communication be translated into a spiritually-valuable indulgence in God’s metaphysical bank of judgments, an indulgence that will all but ensure a place in paradise in the hopes of the transgressor. How are we supposed to distinguish between a forgivee who, after decades of sinning asks forgiveness in the interpretation that there is a seat waiting for him in heaven, and a forgivee who wants to repent for no other reason than because he or she knows they were wrong plain and simple?

It is said that it is impossible to discriminate between a wholehearted and unconditional attempt at asking for forgiveness and one that is filled with ulterior motives. There are those who have intuited that we cannot tell the difference between the two and that it is unfair to try to do so if for no other reason that we cannot read a person’s mind. This isn’t entirely true. You can read someone’s mind to a certain extent at least. How so? There is only one way and that is by their actions.

One time can be said to be an accident. More than that can be chalked up to either coincidence or to the start of a pattern. But even one time can have the same worth as multiple turns would. It could be that a single, solitary act or the failure to carry it out can make or break a person’s reputation, especially if that person is a famous figure.

Much of what should and shouldn’t be forgiven depends on the degree of the transgression. We can plausibly forgive Barack Obama for smoking marijuana when he was a young man or George W. Bush for being an alcoholic even as late as in his thirties. Some of us would find it in themselves to grant forgiveness to “venial” sinners like Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, or to the growing number of performance enhancement drug athletes in professional sports.

As offensive as their mistakes were, can their wrongdoing be compared to what is known in Roman Catholic parlance as mortal sins? In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, mortal sin is defined as a “sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” From there we go into Argentina’s “Dirty War” during the 1970’s when Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the then head of the Jesuit society in the country and now the Vicar of Christ on Earth, seemingly chose to perform a minor public function in the struggle against the Videla dictatorship.

Even if we were to disregard the charges of overt collaboration with the military dictatorship in Argentina, Father Bergoglio still has some things to answer for. Imagine a clergyman as prominent in the Roman Catholic hierarchy as Bergoglio was as lead Jesuit, remaining essentially silent as fellow priests and the Catholic faithful---the very Catholics he should have spoken out for---were brutally repressed by a tyrannical regime.

The same should be said of any man of the cloth for he, as he is commanded by the Church, would claim to be God’s representative on Earth. The priestly class cannot rightly make this claim by capitulating to what would be a “pious” association with torturers and murderers or by caving in to sheer cowardice. It was Christ after all, who openly resisted the oppressors of his day with the full knowledge that he would pay for it with his life. Aren’t the clergy supposed to emulate Christ’s example, for else why should they be anointed as ambassadors of God?

I wish to spare a thought of forgiveness for Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis I. As “Il Papa,” he should ask for forgiveness for his sins of omission during Argentina’s military dictatorship. The Bible states in James 4:17: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Becoming the pope doesn’t excuse him from this. If Pope Francis genuinely aspires to be a good pope for the poor, for the underprivileged, and in the spirit and morality that Christ manifested, then we should expect no less from his primary emissary in this world.


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