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No Condemnation, Even for a Pedophile

December 8, AD2016 12 Comments


A few months ago, I defriended someone on Facebook not only because I barely knew this person, but because a post of his bothered me so much and haunted me for days. He had posted a news story about a person I knew from high school who had been arrested for sexually abusing children. As if this story wasn’t enough to make me profoundly depressed, he promised that when this person got out of jail, he would beat him up, using several expletives.

Is Redemption Possible?

I reflected upon the situation of this man who had committed this crime, perhaps the most heinous of all crimes. There are several things that will give you a social stigma. Mental illness is one of the most immediate of the “modern-day leprosies”. There is also being unemployed, or being a criminal of any sort. Just being in jail makes it very hard for you to be employed in the future, or get your life straightened out in any way. It is hard to avoid being incarcerated again, to be a good spouse and parent.
However, the social stigma of being a pedophile is far beyond that of the common criminal. It provokes disgust in the most hardened of hearts, I would say especially if you have children of your own. Will it be possible for this man in jail to straighten out his life again? Who would want to employ a person who served time for pedophilia? Who would want to marry him? Who would want to even be friends with this man? The normal human reaction is certainly what this person who posted the news story wanted to do… hurt or punish this man even more.

Only Those Who Are In Pain Cause Pain

I say hurt this man “even more” because I assume that this man is already hurting in an unimaginable way. It is easy to paint a terrible picture of this man when you see him from the viewpoint of his child victims. However, most, if not all sexual offenders have been victims of sexual abuse in their own childhoods. Does that mean he shouldn’t be locked up and kept away from children and society at large? Of course, that is urgent. That is what we do to protect our communities. Yet, what becomes of the criminal and the rest of his life? This brings us back to the first question, is his redemption possible?
One of the conclusions that can be taken from Dostoyevsky’s famous novel Crime and Punishment is that the crime itself is its own punishment. As Christians, we can substitute “sin” in for “crime” and we know that sin leaves is mark in your life, even if you ask for forgiveness, but especially if you don’t.

Even Criminals Have Mothers

This news story hit me so hard because I went to elementary school with this man’s brother. My mom knew his mom and they seemed to be “normal” people. His brother wanted to be my elementary “boyfriend” and gave me a piece of jewelry almost every Christmas or Valentine’s day. Now that I am a mother of a baby boy, I know how much of my heart I pour into my son. I would give anything… my own limb… for him to grow up and be a happy, holy, respectful man and find his vocation in marriage or in the priesthood. What if he grew up to be a pedophile? I can’t even hypothetically put myself into this woman’s shoes. Unspeakable pain.
It is easy to think of ourselves as “better than” or “above” criminals, most especially a pedophile. It actually makes us feel a little better about ourselves to share their crimes, to post them on Facebook and condemn them loudly to our friends. However, when I think about a criminal’s mother, my heart breaks in a million pieces. What lack of love, what twisted humanity, what unspeakable pain.

This reminds me of a story in the last of the frequently asked questions of Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages: “One young man who is incarcerated said,

‘Thanks for sharing the five love languages. For the first time in my life I finally understand that my mother loves me. I realize that my love language is Physical Touch but my mother never hugged me. In fact, the first hug I ever remember getting from my mother was the day I left for prison. But I realize that she spoke Acts of Service very strongly. She worked hard to keep us in food and clothes and to provide a place to live. I know now that she loved me; she simply wasn’t speaking my language. But now, I understand she really did love me.’”

Leave The Condemnation to the Judge

One of my favorite memories of a priest friend of mine who was at a Bible study when someone asked him if he thought a non-Catholic could go to Heaven. He answered,

“You know, I like to think God says to me, take care of souls there on Earth… do some paperwork, do the administration work in my Church… but leave the judgment of who goes to Heaven or Hell to me, ok? You do your work, I do mine.”

Pope Francis visited a prison during his last visit to the United States, and prisons are certainly sad places where much ministry is needed to help criminals experience the forgiveness of God. Yet we are also called to love all people and not their crimes in all walks of life.
It is natural to want to beat up a pedophile, but supernatural to love him. Of course, that includes doing what is best for him and for society, which is removing him.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.” (Colossians 1: 24-26)

We are not called to condemn anyone, but we are called to participate in everyone’s redemption. We are here on this Earth to get to Heaven and to help others also get to Heaven. So let’s pray for the light and clarity to that for even the most unlovable.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 32-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal to study theology. She now lives there, along with the rest of her family, her husband and her children. She believes the greatest things in life are small and hidden and that the extraordinary is in the ordinary. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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