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Bishop of Coventry admits pitfalls in ‘forgiving’ abusers in the Church of England

15 September 2017

ISTOCK

THE call to forgiveness has been used to justify collusion and the cover-up of abuse in the Church of England, the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, has said.

Writing in this week’s Church Times, Dr Cocksworth argues that “the language of forgiveness” should not be used “to block the way to justice”.

“Survivors may be told that forgiving their abusers will mean not taking any action that may ‘hurt’ them, such as telling others in positions of responsibility about what happened.

“At the same time, people who have committed abuse may be reassured that receiving divine pardon for their actions makes it unnecessary to face the human consequences of their crime. The Churches, including the Church of England, have been guilty of collusion and cover-up in the aftermath of abuse, and the call to forgiveness has sometimes been employed to help to justify that.”

Dr Cocksworth’s article refers to a document by the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission, which he chairs, Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Abuse, which is published today by Church House Publishing.

Dr Cocksworth goes on to argue, however, that the Church “cannot stop talking about forgiveness”, which is “at the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ”.

“One of the key conclusions of Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Abuse is that, while forgiveness matters in the aftermath of abuse, that does not mean that it should be the immediate focus of what the Church says and does. Forgiveness needs to be seen in relation to justice, healing, and repentance. It can never be a substitute for them, and it is simply wrong, theologically, to think that it could. . .

“The more catastrophic the damage wrought by sin, the greater the likely need for some basic repairs to be made to the fabric of people’s lives before forgiveness can even begin to be imagined by those who have been hurt the most. Justice, healing, and repentance are all part of that.”

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