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  • Reverend James Squire

The Apology

Photo by Marin Czerniawski

Forgiveness is mentioned numerous times in the biblical record. In Matthew 5:23-24 we read just one of the many verses about forgiveness as it releases an individual from the anger that can be freeing. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister have something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them. Then come and offer your gift.” When Jesus is asked how many times, we should forgive someone, we receive the troubling response of not seven times but seventy-seven times” in Matthew 18: 22.

In the Buddhist tradition we read, “Holding on to your anger is like holding on to a hot coal with the intent on throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Forgiveness is important. Forgiveness frees the person who has been offended to move to reconciliation. However, I and some others have trouble with the timing of the apology for that is key to whether it helps the person offended or not. Forgiveness is noteworthy. An Apology can be problematic.

Recent apologies helped me to understand why I have a problem with the timing of an apology which leads to the question, “Who is really helped by the apology?”

We can test an apology with the guideline when we don’t feel that “it is too little too late.” and “the answer to the question who benefits from the apology is the person on the receiving end and not the person apologizing.” It rings true with the oft made statement that “justice delayed is justice denied.” An apology delayed is an apology denied.

I have been troubled for years by the Roman Catholic Church’s seeking forgiveness for decades of sexual abuse that was done by their clergy under the not so watchful eye of various bishops. Most of the literature that I have read reflects that people were not “healed” by the hierarchy uttering words of apology seeking forgiveness. The people abused were broken beyond belief. Financial restitution was argued in the courts and when statutes of limitation of the law were enforced, the Church seemed to have a sigh of relief.

It wasn’t as though the Roman Catholic Church didn’t have the necessary funds. I recall a luncheon that I had with three devout Roman Catholic women during the height of the abuse allegations. I was headed to Rome for Holy Week. They said with one voice, “When we visited Rome, we returned and vowed not to give any more funds to the church. When I asked “why,” they responded, “You will see why when you go to the Vatican.” The Roman Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest entities in the world. Walking through the various rooms of the Vatican is to experience sheer opulence. I commented that you could sell off one room and make a significant dent in world hunger. To add insult to injury this was during the legal bargaining regarding reparations for lives destroyed by their clergy. “Too little too late.”

In an article by Nicole Winfield and Rob Gillies in the July 30, 2022 Inquirer regarding the Pope’s apology tour to Canada, they write: “The Canadian Government has said physical and sexual abuse were rampant at the residential schools, and Thursday the Pope begged forgiveness for the evil of clergy sex abuse. His vow came after he omitted a reference to sexual abuse in his initial apology this week, upsetting some survivors and earning a complaint from the Canadian government. Francis’ apologies have received a mixed response with some school survivors welcoming them as helpful to their healing and others saying far more needs to be done to correct past wrongs and pursue justice. They were basically saying “too little too late. Who benefits from his words?”

And then there is Will Smith’s recent re-apology for hitting Chris Rock at the Academy Awards Ceremony in March. It is now August. This is Smith’s first video apology, but according to an article by Nick Vadala in the July 30 Inquirer, Smith said, “To all my fellow nominees, you know this is a community, it’s like I won because you voted for me. And it really breaks my heart to have stolen and tarnished your moment…I promise you, I am deeply devoted and committed to putting light and love and joy into the world.” What has not been mentioned about his apology is that the Hollywood Reporter has indicated that several of his projects have been put on “hold” as a result of his slap and language at the Academy Awards. Evidently, he has fallen from grace with his career. Recall in ethics we learn money unfortunately motivates more than actions of integrity. “Too little too late. Who benefits from his words?” Certainly not Chris Rock.

When our school was on the old campus at Merion, we were next to the Barnes foundation, the largest private collection of Renoirs in the world. It brought prestige to the neighborhood. However, the neighbors didn’t like the fact that the Barnes Foundation was marketing to an international clientele. They wanted a local low attendance at the Barnes not busloads of people from far and wide. They made things very difficult for the Barnes harassing them with various lawsuits. However, when the Barnes had enough, they planned to move the art museum to the city which they eventually did. The neighbors and township never saw that coming and followed hypocritically with various apologies and signs that “The Barnes Belongs In Merion.” The director of the Barnes Foundation at the time was Kimberly Camp. I will never forget her response on the Inquirer’s editorial page. It was one line to the neighbors and township. “Too little too late.” She didn’t add, “Who benefits from that apology.”

After the July 12 January 6 Commission meeting, Stephen Ayres, one of the insurrectionists who was interviewed, went up to police officers to apologize for his actions. Officer Aquilino said after the moment that it didn’t mean much to him as he was planning for his forced retirement due to his injuries. Officer Fanone responded that “no apology was necessary.” He told a reporter afterwards that “Ayres’ apology didn’t mean s—t to him.” The apology may have meant something to Ayres, but not to Fanone or Aquilino. I don’t think that Ayres was doing it for optics, and neither did the officers. In terms of the significant injuries to the officers, it was perhaps “too little no matter when they would have made the apology.” Apologies work better when they occur close to the event in question and when they occur ideally in a private setting, not for the whole world to see.

There are some things, however, that transcend an apology and forgiveness. We know that we are involved in one of those sacred moments when such moments occur such as 9/11 and the Holocaust. Then our souls may hear, “Never forget” committing that event to eternal memory. January 6 may have been one of those moments for many particularly for those who defended the capitol. Certainly, it doesn’t include the unrepentant such as certain Republicans who still push the lie or were instrumental in all that happened that day.

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