Tuesday, June 28, 2005
My friend and Notre Dame colleague Dan Philpott has this essay, "Pope's Greatest Legacy Could Be Forgiveness", in the South Bend Tribune. He writes:
What is now needed is a social ethic of forgiveness, one that explains when, how and under what circumstances nations ought to practice the principle. Were Benedict XVI to take up this challenge, he would be forging an important development in the long tradition of Catholic social thought, a tradition that offers a rich legacy of doctrines about the justice of war -- ones now ensconced in international law and U.S. military doctrine -- but that provides little guidance for societies like Iraq or Bosnia, or Rwanda or Northern Ireland, which have already been devastated by war or dictatorial rule and are now seeking to rebuild.
Forgiveness in politics is rare, critics will point out, and for good reason: It is utopian. But one day before Benedict XVI was elected, The New York Times carried the following headline: "Atrocity victims in Uganda choose to forgive." In the mid-1990s, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu proposed that wounded countries have "no future without forgiveness" and encouraged it through his country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Half a decade earlier in Chile, President Patricio Aylwin called for national repentance for the torture and killing of thousands during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Militants and civilians, politicians and prelates have also granted and received forgiveness in El Salvador, East Germany, Northern Ireland, Guatemala and elsewhere.
Most of these voices advocate forgiveness as one of several practices in a larger process of reconciliation, complementary to the public telling of the truth about past injustices, reparations, apologies and, most of all, accountability for offenders. These are the ingredients of an ethic of forgiveness. Weaving them together and passing the product along to the world is a job for which a global moral leader with an impressive intellect -- like the new pope -- is uniquely suited. In an era when war is fueled anew by the deepest sorts of identities -- religious, ethnic, national, and civilizational -- forgiveness may well prove Benedict's greatest legacy.