Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Pinterest Connect on Google Plus Connect on LinkedIn

No Condemnation, Even for a Pedophile

December 8, AD2016


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 30-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.

If you enjoyed this essay, subscribe below to receive a daily digest of all our essays.

Thank you for supporting us!

  • Fr. John Higgins

    The act of abusing a child sexually does make most of us react with anger, disgust, sadness, compassion and hopefully a mix of all. What we do with all of that is important, even if what we do is to imagine true evil being done to the person who abuses the child. So, please don’t think that one must passively ignore the horrible act while considering only nice thoughts and feeling guilty if one has angry thoughts or is disgusted by sexual child abuse (or any other child abuse, for that matter). I have spoken with and counseled several young people who were sexually molested by an adult. In only one case was the adult still alive, and in that case it was the young girl’s own father. In other cases the man who did it was dead and in still another case the woman who did it was already in a psychiatric facility and the police already had record of this and other children she had sexually abused. I’ve spoken to several men who were accused of this horrendous act. One fled the country and, as far as I know, he has not yet been found (in the past 20 years).

    I don’t know that it is possible for everyone to completely let go of the anger and resentment that happens naturally in a victim. I do know that one young lady, who’s father I reported to the police, has lost her anger and resentment through good Spiritual Direction with a Priest. She is now a wife and mother and the last time I saw her she and her husband looked very joyful. I spoke with them and she let me know that her life was full of love and joy and that her memories of her father had been tucked away in a safe space and were not effecting her life. It was the first time I met her husband and he gave me a bear hug and lifted me off the ground saying “Thank you!” I was glad she had such a strong husband.

    What attitude should a Christian have with the perpetrators? Jesus says for us to love our enemies. We must recognize that some people are our enemies. We cannot live in denial about that. These people don’t have to remain our enemies, but we must accept the reality that what they have done is evil. If they recognize that and repent we must accept that they have done so and turn our thoughts about them over to God. We do not, however, have to become friends with them in the sense of inviting them into our homes and our lives. I would not suggest that a victim invite his or her molester out for dinner and a movie. This isn’t an attitude of hate, it is an attitude of discretion. We can wish them well (eternally well, not winning the lottery) and go on with our lives. We can accept that we have spiritual and psychological scars, but those can be healed and we don’t have to reveal them to anyone we do not intimately trust.

    Most, if not all, people have memories of hurtful things that happened to them in childhood or as adults. We can work on keeping the wounds open with anger and resentment or we can turn to the Lord and to the people who really love us for healing. Anyone who thinks that injuring the perpetrator is going to help heal them is simply continuing the sick cycle of abuse. Anyone who thinks that we should ignore the abuse and move on hasn’t considered that there must be healing of those wounds which will fester if not treated.

    This is where Christ and His ministers of love and compassion come in. The truly saintly people who minister with love and compassion both to the victim and to the perpetrator can be vessels of God’s Grace in brining reality and compassion to the situation. Both are necessary. We need to face the reality of the situation and treat the individual before us with Christ’s love. Hopefully they will accept that reality and be open to His Healing Grace.

    • Julie Machado

      Thank you Fr. John. This is beautiful. I can’t imagine anything more terrible happening to someone. And what a gift we have through His ministers.

  • adam aquinas

    “If you harm one of these little ones, better for you that a millstone be draped around your neck and you be dropped into the depths of the sea” (Luke 17:2). There was never a more ardent supporter and defender of children than Jesus Christ and I do not hear words of love and non-condemnation respecting those who hurt children.
    Two issues in your post disturb me greatly; your ignorance about pedophilia and your instruction that we do not condemn (remain neutral or silent) about the sexual predator of children. I am equally bothered by the fact that you speak much abut the predator and nothing about the victim. Silence makes us an ally of the predator and oppresses the victim.
    First, a pedophile is a disordered sexual attraction to prepubescent children. It is a mental and psychological disorder that finds its toots in many places. Treatment has been generally unsuccessful with these individuals. Psychological disturbance is not a place upon which we should heap our condemnation; we should heap it upon the person who acts upon the attraction. Not all, or perhaps most pedophiles, ACT upon their disordered inclinations. To act on pedophiliac tendencies makes a person a sexual predator. The predator of young children deserves and needs condemnation …. the millstone draped around his/her neck and to “swim with the fishes.” Those are Jesus’ words. Why? It destroys the spirit of the child akin to murder and the sexual perpetration of children is the most heinous crime. Without strong condemnation, the perpetrator will repeat and repeat. The blood is on our hands if we do not condemn this abuse of children and those involved….as Jesus did. By the way, pedophiles are not only men ( you keep referring to him) but a small minority are female. Yes, we are called upon to condemn the sexual perpetrators of children.
    Second, to remain silent or neutral or forgiving or loving makes us an ally with the perpetrator, we take the side of the oppressor not the victim. Other than Jesus, listen to words of other wise men:

    “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” – Elie Wiesel

    “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” – Desmond Tutu

    “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral ” – Paulo Freire

    “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict…[an individual] who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” – Martin Luther King Jr.

    No condemnation? Who will speak for the children…..?

    • nancy

      You’re correct but these pedophiles were so often abused themselves. They are also that child that was harmed. It can be a horrible repetitive sin of the father (or mother) problem. Mercy is always the most Christ like way. Jail time can certainly be merciful too, anything that breaks the cycle. But hating them pushes them away from the Face of Christ that we can present.

    • Julie Machado

      ‘condemn (remain neutral or silent) about the sexual predator of children’… As I said in the article, of course pedophiles should go to jail and be kept away from society. Of course we can’t be ‘silent’ on that. So, they have to be ‘condemned’ and judged by a human judge according to the law. But we can’t judge their soul and whether or not they will go to Heaven or hell. Yes, Jesus has a preferential love for children, but, as unfathomable as this may seem, He also loves the criminal, the pedophile, the unlovable… and died for them too. Whether or not they will accept that Love, and whether WE will, that is what we cannot judge.

    • adam aquinas

      Julie, a pedophile is a person with a disordered sexual attraction for children….it’s an attraction and does not make for condemnation. A pedophile who ACTS UPON THAT DISORDER is a sexual perpetrator and belongs is jail, All pedophiles do not perpetrate….you confuse basic psychopathology with predation. And by the way, Jesus was pretty clear about the millstone around the neck? was he not?

    • Steven Jonathan

      Adam, I too disagree with the authors overall message, but yours is much more disturbing, unless I missed the part in the Gospels where Jesus said that “adam aquinas is the one to put the millstone around the necks of those who would mislead children.” Your words contain some truth, but overall they are very disturbed and say more about your agitated mind than the mind of Christ. Very poor judgement here adversary.

    • adam aquinas

      I am pleased that my words disturb you …. a person who sexually abuses a child should be condemned and no one should remain neutral. I lived the Boston clergy abuse crisis and because no person in authority condemned the clerical child perpetrator, many hundreds of children were scared for life, left all belief in a god and turned to drugs and killed themselves. The condemnation extends to any man or woman who violates a child. The perp was moved to a new parish by a person who refused to condemn….cowards. The perp continued to violate again and again because someone refused to condemn NOW.
      If my daughter or son was abused by anyone at 1 or 2 years old, had their innocence robbed …. I would be a judge and jury, despite the fact that that would disturb you. Omerta, would swim with the fishes. If you think my mind is agitated by sexual perpetrators of children, you are right on target. I, for one, will not be silent.

  • Buckingham Beauty

    Thank you for this. I hear so many people say things like, “That pedophile deserves to be killed/molested himself/beaten up/whatever,” and I cringe. My uncle, now deceased, was a pedophile who spent time in jail for his actions, and while I do believe prison time was entirely just, I also know the very dysfunctional family from which he came–and that makes gives me good perspective on how we can’t judge. He was the second-youngest of seven. His twin sister, my mom, is severely mentally ill (and we think might have been abused herself), his father (probably physically abusive) and one brother were both alcoholics, one sister married a man who beat her physically and berated her verbally, another sister had kids outside of marriage with different men, another brother was a shallow jerk, etc., etc., etc. – and my grandma was pretty much the enabler of it all. All of that suggests abuse somewhere in there. And I’d bet good money that my uncle was mentally ill himself. He was arrogant beyond belief, had delusions of grandeur, rebelled against authority, and on and on. Personally, I couldn’t stand him, but I could see that all of these flaws were the result of his own pain, insecurities, etc. I could see that he didn’t really know true love or joy. And while I don’t excuse my uncle in any way — after all, he’s one of seven, and the other six didn’t choose to become abusers — and pray always for his soul, I can’t imagine the pain and suffering a family situation like that must have been to grow up in and how that might have influenced things. We can never judge. But for the grace of God, there go I, right?

    • Our fully innocent Lord was beat up and crucified for his crimes by the authorities of his day, while we participate by our sins. To atone, we must say each day, ‘forgive us as we forgive’.

    • Julie Machado

      Yes, my heart breaks with your story. We are all so wounded and so in need of grace. God bless you and thank you for sharing.

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      Sorry,”Buckingham Beauty”, but…”we can never judge”…is NOT a Biblical concept; Christians ALWAYS take that out of context. When Jesus said “Judge not according to appearance but judge righteous judgement”, what do you think He meant? Mull and reflect. PEACE.?