Over the years, there have been some rather memorable incidents involving so-called radio shock jocks who got themselves into trouble — both with the law and with their listeners — for stunts, attacks and simply appalling behavior. There were, for example, the two radio personalities who were fired in 2002 for a stunt involving a couple caught in a sexual prank in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. I can remember listening to a lot of the shock jocks offering apologies usually worded along the lines of, “We apologize to anyone who might have been offended.” I always translated that phrase to mean, “If any of you humorless people were offended by my free spirit, then sorry.” And, invariably, to anyone who asked what they were going to do about demonstrating their real regret, the reply amounted to, “We apologized, so get over it.” Similar apologies are the currency of modern politics. Politicians caught in adultery, lies and cronyism make a public apology and then hope the voters have very short attention spans and even shorter memories. Like the shock jocks, the pleas for forgiveness seem to be as insincere as they are fleeting, and the mea culpa all too often reflects not that they are truly repentant but that they are sorry only for being caught.
We are called to forgive those who hurt us and who sin against us. But have we lost sight of the true meaning and the full dimensions of forgiveness? Woodeene Koenig-Bricker writes about this in this issue. As she notes, seeking forgiveness is not as simple as politicians and radio hosts would make it seem: “Forgiveness is tough. As Reinhold Niebuhr says, ‘Forgiveness is the final form of love.’ As Christians, we are called to forgive, as we have been forgiven. But we are also called to model God’s forgiveness.” All of us are in need of God’s forgiveness. And we also are in need of understanding what true forgiveness really entails. It is more than mouthing words of being sorry and more than living with such low expectations of others that we allow a false apology to masquerade for genuine repentance. At the heart of this, of course, is the demand of justice.
Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of this when he said that, in light of the sex abuse crisis, we as a Church have “to learn forgiveness, but also the need for justice. Forgiveness does not replace justice.” TCA