Am I Required to Forgive Osama Bin Laden as a Catholic?

As someone who lost two dear friends on that dreaded day of September 11, 2001, I know how incredibly painful it must be for anyone to consider forgiveness for those who carried out the violent acts of terrorism that day.

Too often, however, we equate forgiveness with being a doormat. That because someone has so drastically wronged us, we often have a default position that states that forgiveness would be naive at best for us in these grave matters because it sends those who harm us a signal that what they did was ok.

Nothing can be further from the truth about forgiveness. Forgiveness is a choice and that choice says that one will no longer allow the hurtful event to continue to effect their actions. One consciously chooses to move on and to respond more positively to the future. While Bin Laden and the other terrorists who caused so much chaos may have taken much from so many of us, the one thing that they cannot take from us is our ability to respond with love in the face of hatred. It is a true sign that evil does not have the final word. Love always trumps evil, even when it doesn’t seem like it can.

As a direct response to your question, I think a good answer is “yes, eventually.” We all need to heal from tragedy and pain. One cannot offer what one is not able to give. Without healing, we probably cannot offer forgiveness freely. Once free from pain, however, forgiveness can be possible. It also frees us from the shackles of revenge that perpetuate the cycle of violence.

A true message for Catholics to proclaim is: Terrorism wants us to believe that we cannot respond to atrocities without violence and revenge. Christ calls us to respond to everything we face with love. Today let us look to the Cross as our guide and repeat the words that Jesus said while dying on the cross.

“Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”


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