Sunday, January 07, 2007

What’s forgiveness got to do with it?

No great surprise. The Archbishop of Warsaw, who had been a communist spy and who, quite brazenly, had just a day earlier wanted to none-the-less retain his post, had a sudden change of heart and decided to resign from the position. Almost definitely after a terse phone-call from the Vatican.
As the BBC reports, “the episode is an unprecedented embarrassment for the Catholic Church in Poland.” This could be grounds for a round of shadenfreude but I do not think so, certainly not in the case of the now ex-Archbishop. For someone as young as myself it is almost impossible to understand the pressures he must have been under during the communist era. Indeed, when I come to think of it, I am not at all sure that I would not have succumbed to those pressures and not acted in much the same way – that system made breaking people into a fine art. So, I take no joy from his personal misfortune. This might sound like I feel similarly to those who, calling for Christian forgiveness, wanted him to be allowed to stay in his position. However, forgiveness has little to do with the need for his resignation.
In a sense the issue does not concern me, since I am not a Catholic or any kind of Christian. Still, I am just as capable of forgiveness as those who try to put a religious label on it. And, however one might be willing to forgive the man for his actions, that can not be seen as in any way justifying retaining him in a position of authority. I may be willing to forgive a man who stole from me but I would be a fool to ask him to hold my wallet. Comparisons have been made with Christ forgiving Peter for denying him during his crucifixion but the comparison is false. Firstly, if Peter hadn’t denied knowledge of Christ he would have been subject to the same tortures as Christ while the Polish priest collaborated, as he himself revealed, to further his career. Indeed, it was partly thanks to this collaboration, as a result of which he was allowed to take a German scholarship, that he first became rector of a Catholic university and then archbishop. Secondly, not being all-knowing we have to go on a person’s past behaviour to judge how they will act in the future. God allegedly does not suffer from such limitations and could be sure that Peter would do a good job of leading his Church (although, of course, in the end it was Paul who actually did so).
To the degree that I am happy about what happened it is only because it serves as another reminder to us how fallible people are. One can only hope that it will make people more wary of claiming to be the Second Coming or of waiting for any other kind of Übermensch and more likely to understand that we only progress by working together assiduously.

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