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“Ask a Priest: What If a Prison Guard Feels Hatred Toward Offenders?”
Q: My son, born and raised Catholic, is employed as a guard at a local prison. He is struggling with his belief that in order to go to heaven, one cannot judge others, etc., and the fact that he literally protects child molesters. He feels great hatred for these men and can’t reconcile this feeling with his faith. He is a good man, but he feels he is doomed to hell because of his feelings toward these men. Can you help me to help him? – D.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is understandable that the crime of child molestation stokes deep feelings of revulsion in people. It is a despicable act. The thought of innocent children being abused is sickening.
Notwithstanding the horror of these acts, and in light of what we know of God’s mercy, it might help to remind your son that Jesus suffered and died even for those molesters.
God loves all of us, despite our failings and at times terrible sins. His desire is that we all make it to heaven today.
In this sense, your son might see his work as giving time for the molesters to experience a conversion if they haven’t done so yet. Recall what Jesus said finding the lost sheep (see Luke 15:7).
Also, his work as a prison guard is helping to maintain a justice system that, despite its imperfections, still manages to function. Without law and order, this country would become a jungle. So, his work fulfills an honorable purpose.
It might be good to remind him, moreover, that molesters themselves often suffered abuse as children. This isn’t an excuse for their behavior, but it helps to put things in context.
Maybe a more compelling reason for forgiveness is this: Christ invites us to forgive because, in part, he knows what a spirit of unforgiveness can do to us. The crime of these molesters can corrupt your son if he nurtures hate toward them.
Jesus is inviting your son to let go of this hatred, and to commend souls to God. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Perhaps it can help your son to realize that forgiveness is an act of the will; it is not about feelings. Your son might not have warm feelings toward these convicts, and he might never have them. Yet, he can make an act of forgiveness, wishing that these inmates have a conversion of heart and reach heaven someday.
Your son might find guidance in Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti, “Forgiving does not mean forgetting. … In the face of an action that can never be tolerated, justified or excused, we can still forgive. In the face of something that cannot be forgotten for any reason, we can still forgive” (No. 250).
If convicts need to stay in jail for life in order to protect others, so be it. Forgiveness of their sin doesn’t mean letting them off the hook. They have a price to pay for their deeds. Your son’s work helps ensure that they pay that price – and gives them time for repentance.
It might be good to intensify your prayers for your son.
I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.
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