On the website dictionary.com, the first definition of the word apology is: “A written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another.
We all make mistakes in life. Some are big, some are small; and fortunately we are not expected to express public sorrow for every single minor offense. Indeed, if we apologized for each error made we would probably be expressing remorse all day long, and the very act of saying “I’m sorry” would be cheapened by its over use. You might even know someone who does this and frankly, it’s tiring. If you bring it to their attention, they may even respond by saying “I’m sorry I apologize so much.”
Sometimes, however, we genuinely flub, goof, screw up royally, or experience learning moments. More often than not these boo-boos, or lapses in judgement affect other people and unfortunately, life does not have an “undo” button.
This is where the genuine, sincere, heartfelt apology comes in. In many cases, this act is all that’s necessary to smooth things over. “Sorry I was ten minutes late”, “It was very insensitive of me to say that. I am so sorry,” are examples that come to mind. The offender recognizes they made an error, and even though they cannot undo it, they express regret, and though unsaid, imply they wish forgiveness. The offended party is assuaged, usually will kindly accept the apology, and hopefully forget the offense. In the minds of both parties, the hurt is soothed by regret; remorse begets forgiveness and hopefully even a forgetting.
Many mistakes, however, are simply too big to address simply with an apology. Still, often an apology is a good place to start. It implies a sincere attitude and a desire to resolve differences.
Finally, let’s consider the strange concept of retracting an apology. It is difficult to imagine a situation where this would truly be warranted. We appropriately apologize in order to repair a relationship. Even if you apologize for being wrong and later find out you were right, retracting an apology does more harm than good. It implies the original concession was made only because of error and not out of genuine concern for the feelings of the one hurt.
All of the above brings us to the original and intended purpose for this post: The stunning and unbelievable news story that Cardinal Egan has retracted an apology to victims of clerical abuse. To read the actual interview, go to the following link: http://www.connecticutmag.com/Connecticut-Magazine/Web-Exclusive-Content/February-2012/Egan-Ten-Years-After/
The article above describes the very questionable methods he used to handle the local ongoing tragedy involving 23 priests and numerous victims of abuse while leading the Bridgeport diocese. After a brief introduction, the interviewer tells how he and Egan talked at length about his years of church service and then, abruptly, seemingly out of nowhere, the cardinal brought up the sex scandal of ten years earlier.
Egan’s attitude seems cavalier; he talks about the impeccable character of those accused, how the scandal was going to be “fun in the news”, his ignorance of mandatory abuse reporting, his pride in how he handled the matter. He makes the very odd statement that “I believe the sex abuse thing was incredibly good.”
Obviously, wanting to clarify this very strange remark, the interviewer asks: Do you mean ‘good’ in that positive changes came about as a result of the crisis?
The Cardinal’s reply: Good that…the record, I think, is an excellent record. And the fact that sex abuse becomes overpowering in people’s eyes, that’s a part of life.
I won’t even pretend to understand what the above comment means. The interviewer remarked that Egan refused to meet with victims of sexual abuse. The Cardinal begins his reply with “First of all, I couldn’t apologize for something that happened when I wasn’t there.”
Really, why not? It is not uncommon for someone to apologize for the actions of their predecessor or their organization. Such an apology is at least somewhat of an effort to acknowledge a previous wrongdoing.
The interviewer of CT Magazine then says: “In 2002, you wrote a letter to parishioners in which you said, “If in hindsight we discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.”
There has been a lot of outrage of the past few days for Cardinal Egan’s response to this comment, of how he retracted an apology. Egan’s “retraction” is a few lines down, but first, read the above carefully. He didn’t really apologize in the first place. He essentially said: If history shows I made any errors in this matter, THEN I am deeply sorry. Consider what this is, a strange animal we might call a “conditional apology.” Confident he has done no wrong, but allowing for the slight possibility he may be in error, he promises future sorrow (but no further action).
“So what”, you might say.
How about trying out the above logic in your own life? Think of a time you really blew it. Perhaps it was a situation with a boss, a spouse or partner. They came to you expressing outrage or pain at something you did and you reply “I am sure I caused no hurt, but should the future show otherwise, I shall be sorry.”
You’re right…it would never fly.
But then, ten years after the above lame “non-apology”, Cardinal Egan says in the interview [his ‘retraction’]: “I should never have said that. I did say if we did anything wrong, I’m sorry, but I don’t think we did anything wrong.”
Jaw dropping amazing. So, whatever shred of hope these victims may have somehow found in his original lame statement has now been taken from them.
The current leadership of the church in Bridgeport, in trying to do damage control, has given the strange response of praising Cardinal Egan’s work in their diocese and saying in fact, the previous apology DOES stand. How? How does a retracted non-apology still stand?
Egan began his service in the Bridgeport diocese as a bishop in the church. In 1999, Pope John Paul II elevated him to Archbishop and in 2002 to Cardinal.
It has now been over a week since Egan made these outrageous and hurtful statements. I have searched the internet news on a daily basis in hopes of seeing a blistering response by the Pope against these cruel remarks. The only related news item seems to be a repentence ceremony (regarding abuse) held at the Vatican a couple days ago. The most significant remark quoted from that meeting seems to be: “We implore forgiveness for those who have abused in various ways…”
Wait a minute…the church is pleading that the abusers be forgiven!? What about the victims; the heartbroken faithful whose trust has been violated by those they held in such high esteem as pious servants of God? What about the victims?
It used to be that people said the church was naive about the extent of this issue; that they just didn’t get it; they were scrambling to put safeguards in place to solve these problems. Once upon a time that may have been a reasonable answer. But the years have passed and the horror persists with little evidence any progress is being made.
So…Pope Benedict, prove the naysayers wrong. Come out immediately in the the strongest voice possible and condemn Cardinal Egan. His remarks offend the sensibilities of billions.
The church forced Galileo to spend the last nine years of his life under house arrest for daring to insist the earth orbited the sun instead of the other way around. The church has prescribed excommunication for Catholics who deny certain key points of Catholic doctrine.
Shouldn’t turning a calloused heart toward these victims of sex abuse; of counting their pain for naught, be condemned with at least as much solemnity?
The excuses are wearing thin. There are probably still a few people who believe the church cares about solving this problem. The Vatican seems paralyzed for lack of a solution. The answer isn’t exactly rocket science. If the Pope wants to prove he really does care, a strong papal rebuke of Egan would be a good first step. Step two: Defrock and excommunicate offending priests. Step three: with no other motivation than doing the right thing, turn over offending priests to the local police.
Unless these basic, straightforward steps are taken immediately, the dwindling numbers who still unconditionally support the church will finally come to believe what the rest of the world already seems to know…the Catholic Church has no interest in solving this problem.