Holding Accountable

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“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

There is a push inside the senate to acquit the former president of inciting the insurrection of January 6th. First, of course, they are trying to say that the senate trial is inappropriate for a former official. However, the brief published by the case managers has already shown how this is a false assumption. We are hearing them hold up the call for unity and warning of more division if the trial goes forward. They warn of violence if there is conviction. What are we to make of this desire to avoid holding the former president accountable?

Anyone who has been brought up Catholic knows all about reconciliation and it is reconciliation that we need if we are to have unity in our country. Catholics have celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation down through the ages. In the early centuries this sacrament had a public dimension as penitents had to stand outside the Church in sack cloth as they pled for forgiveness. Eventually the penitent was allowed to come and seek forgiveness privately. In some ways this diminished the public dimension of reconciliation. It left out the restoration of relationships.

Reconciliation’s true purpose is the restoration of relationships not just with God, but with oneself, and with other people. Let me say that again, the goal is the restoration of relationships and it is the restoration of relationships that is most needed in our country today.

The process is this: the person who has committed wrong against others must admit the wrong they committed, must determine they will not do this wrong thing again, must ask for forgiveness, and must do what they can to make up for what they did wrong. We call this last part “Penance.” When the person responsible will not seek reconciliation, the community needs to set them aside until they repent and refuse to absolve them of the harm they have done. They need to be held accountable.

There can be no restoration of the broken relationships in our country if the process of reconciliation is short circuited. We cannot pretend that all is well and “move on.” Things will only get worse. Sadly, even if we go through a good process of reconciliation there is a lot of work to do to regain our trust in one another. Threats of violence are certainly no answer to our problems. Using coercion to force others to your will is always disastrous.

If we cannot trust one another, there can be no unity. The leadership of our country needs to model a path forward for us by doing the work of reconciliation as they hold the impeachment trial next week. Will they? And will they hold accountable all those who actively supported the wrong that the former president brought upon us? For until this occurs there cannot be healing. Relationships will stay broken, and we will have a broken country.

As Nancy Pelosi said, “We’ll see if we have a senate of courage or cowards.”

My beloved ones, let us pray that the spark of divinity within each one of our senators will be awakened, that consciences will awaken, and our representatives will do what is right. We can hope…

Bishop Kedda

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