IN A QUANDARY
I've just been sent an email by an old friend, asking me to sign a petition; and I really don't know what to do about it.
The petition is directed to Baroness Butler-Sloss, who (it says) has just directed that the two 10-year old boys who killed Jamie Bulger in 1993 (so now fully adult men) are not only to be released from prison early, but are to remain anonymous for the rest of their lives - and are, incidentally, to be relocated to Australia so that they can 'make a new start'.
The Petition asks for this 'miscarriage of justice' to be remedied; and also for steps to be taken to ensure that such a thing cannot happen again.
My immediate concerns are that I've heard nothing about all this in the news - which would be unusual, given the high profile which anything to do with the Jamie Bulger case usually has - and also that Lady Butler Sloss (who was President of the Family Division until 2005) is now retired from Judicial work (she is 76), and would in any event be a fairly unlikely person to be dealing with what is clearly a criminal matter.
That doesn't, of course, prove that the report on which the Petition is based is wrong; but it undoubtedly raises a question or two in my mind.
That apart, though, my real dilemma is much more a matter of moral theology.
I accept unhesitatingly that what those two boys - they were 10 when they killed Jamie - did was utterly wrong, and utterly loathsome; the full details of what they did have not (as far as I am aware) been fully disclosed even now.
However : as a Catholic Christian, I cannot ignore the reality of contrition - after all, I go to confession and beg God's mercy on the sins which I have committed as an informed, and reasonably intelligent, adult; cannot a mature adult have contrition for something he did when he was 10, and clearly far less informed and intelligent ?
I do not know whether those two young men have contrition for what they did; but I do know that if they have it, then they are as entitled to God's forgiveness as any other sinner - and if God can forgive them, then we certainly ought to.
Obviously early release, and a 'new life', ought not be granted them lightly : but if the report is an accurate one, then I am certain that it is not being - Baroness Butler Sloss is too sensible, and wise, a person to be deceived easily, and I am sure that she would, in any event, have received and considered a great deal of advice and information from people who have had regular contact with the young men for a considerable period.
If they have come to recognise that what they did was ultimately wicked; and if they have come to a state of contrition for that sin, and have begged God's mercy with a firm purpose of amendment; and if the best expert opinion is that there is absolutely no possibility of them reoffending in the future, then I am not sure that I can see grounds for the Petition's criticism of what has, apparently, been decided.
I can fully understand the desire for revenge; I can understand the desire to 'lock them up and throw away the key'; but I can't equate that with Jesus' teaching - and that, ultimately, is what worries me.
S. Philip Neri pointed out that when we pray the Lord's Prayer, we are actually calling down savage judgment on ourselves - 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us' : but how often do we forgive ? How willing are we to accept being hurt, and not want to 'get our own back' ? If we are to get the judgment we give to others, who can have any hope of mercy ?
Don't get me wrong; I'm not claiming any virtue here; I'm the last person who should, in reality, be saying all this - I am only too willing to hold a grudge, especially if someone hurts someone I love - but I try to remind myself that this is wrong, and that it is not what Jesus wants from me; and that I ought to make my decision on that basis, and not on the basis of an instinct which is probably wrong, and possibly even sinful.
After all that, I'm not sure that I'm any nearer to deciding what to do about that Petition - except, I suppose, to try and find out whether it is actually factually reliable, before wasting any more time worrying about it - so if you know anything definite, please let me know !