False Repentance: the politician’s apology

True repentance from grave sin is always a cooperation with grace. In fact, a non-Christian who has never been baptized can enter the state of grace by true repentance from sin, in full cooperation with grace (perfect contrition). [1] A partial cooperation with grace does not suffice for any type of implicit baptism of desire. Perfect contrition is true sorrow for sin and a full and sincere repentance, motivated by the love of God. The true love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. Therefore, an atheist or agnostic can enter the state of grace, or return to the state of grace, by an act of implicit perfect contrition, due to his sorrow for sin out of love of neighbor. Imperfect contrition is sorrow for sin motivated by an ordered love of self, such as the desire to obtain heaven, to avoid hell, and to become a truly good person. Perfect contrition always includes all the good of imperfect contrition.

But I’ve noticed, in our sinful culture, that sometimes a politician or a celebrity is caught committing a grave sin or crime. And once this becomes public, they publicly announce their repentance and their apologies.

I’m certain that some of the time, some of these persons are truly repentant. They admit that they did something gravely immoral; they express their sorrow to the persons they have harmed; they resolve to change their lives. I can’t be the judge of anyone’s soul, but this type of public expression is consistent with true repentance.

But other times, perhaps more often, the fruits of repentance are not seen. As Saint John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees: “Progeny of vipers, who warned you to flee from the approaching wrath? Therefore, produce fruit worthy of repentance.” (Mt 3:8). Now it may be true, in a few cases, that the person is truly repentance, but the public does not perceive this because the person recites an apology written by a lawyer or a public relations advisor. But we all know that grave sin is not absent from the lives of politicians and celebrities, so it is likely that in many cases the public repentance of the individual is insincere.

This insincerity can be seen in the wording of the public statement. There is no real admission of guilt. The person treats the offense as if it were a mere breaking of rules or a violation of social etiquette, not a grave sin. There is no admission of real harm done to other persons. The politician or celebrity speaks as if others took offense by their own choice, as if others were harmed accidentally, as if the individual who sinned could not have anticipated harm to others. There is no expression of responsibility for one’s own misdeeds. That is the way with the politician’s apology.

I noticed this same type of insincere apology from former Cardinal Keith O’Brien, after Pope Francis removed him as a Cardinal.

From the BBC:

Cardinal O’Brien was Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric before resigning as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in 2013 after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour against him.

In a statement released following the Pope’s decision, Cardinal O’Brien said: “I wish to repeat the apology which I made to the Catholic Church and the people of Scotland some two years ago now on 3rd March 2013. I then said that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me. For that I am deeply sorry. I will continue to play no part in the public life of the Church in Scotland; and will dedicate the rest of my life in retirement, praying especially for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, for Scotland, and for those I have offended in any way”.

He refers to his grave sexual sins as falling “below the standards expected of me”. That’s not an admission of grave sin. He speaks as if he merely failed to live up to prevailing social standards. Then he says he is “deeply sorry”, not for grave sin or grave harm, but only “for that” failure to live up to standards others expect of him. His words do not express true sorrow, deep or shallow. It is a false repentance, a politician’s apology.

He refers to his time subsequent to having been removed as a Cardinal as if it were merely a “retirement”. Then the expression “for those I have offended in any way” speaks as if other inexplicably took offense. He offended them in some way, and he’s sorry that they decided to take offense.

I don’t know if former Cardinal O’Brien is in a state of grace. But if he has confessed all of his grave sins, yet without even imperfect contrition, then he is not forgiven. If you do not consider your own grave sins to be an offense against God and a type of wrong-doing for which you yourself are responsible, then you are not repentant.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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[1] Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X, Baptism, Necessity of Baptism and Obligations of the Baptized: 17

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