It’s hard being a Catholic

Before you read this post, I know my cloak of anonymity is certainly not bullet-proof and that there are in fact gaping holes in it and I'd like to make clear that the below is definitely not written about any specific incident at the school I work at or any past school I have worked at. It's just something that's been on my mind for a while and something that may well present itself as a real problem at some point in my career.

Where do you draw the line with giving people second chances?

I know Jesus told us that we should forgive someone "70 times 7" times, ie: we should continue to forgive always. But that's hard! And is it really practical?

For example, if you have a child at your school who is violent towards other children, how many times do you do the restorative chat, give a consequence, talk through the incident, put support in place and let the child return to school? Particularly if that child's teacher is beside him/herself with stress and fear at being hurt and if other parents in the school are complaining because they are concerned that their children are being hurt?

As a principal (or Board of Trustees member) you have to weigh up the mental health and safety of the children and staff you are responsible for vs the ideals of Jesus that every person deserves forgiveness, love and an eternity of chances to make the right choices and that every person has good inside them. That must be really tough. And I'm guessing the decision wouldn't be any easier if you start taking into account the child's home situation. In my experience violent children often come from violent homes and have back-stories that would make you weep.

I remember a story a year or so ago about a principal in Paeroa who had a violent child at her school and she had put her foot down and said he could not come back. The Ministry of Education were trying to force her into having him back at the school but she was putting up a fight for the safety of her community. At the time, part of me thought, "Good on her. Teachers shouldn't have to put up with being scared to come to work." But the other side of the story of course is that this is an 8 year old boy from a disfunctional home who has no love in his life. What's going to happen to him when the one stable, routined, caring enviroment he has is now off-limits?

So where do you draw the line? And as Catholics are we called to a higher moral ground than others around us?


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    Comments: 4

    1. John Whyte March 26, 2014 at 12:34 pm


      I think there is a difference between forgiveness and trusting someone again.  I have a friend who lost quite a lot of money in bluechip.  She has forgiven Mr Bryers (despite him not caring or knowing to be honest) but she'd never trust him with money again.  

      With the Paeroa principal, I do think those are often questions of balancing needs.  Yes the poor child needs help.  But he is impacting on the whole 25 other students.  And there are times where tought calls need to be made.  Just like we make tough calls with our money.  We only have so much we can give, so whilst there are many valuable causes we can only support one or two.  Does this mean we are punishing the others?

    2. Boanerges March 26, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      M+M I know the feeling. I look back on times where I have put the individual's needs first, believing that it is right thing to do as a Christian, and have been bitten by taking that position repeatedly (once even literally!).

      The other side of that debate is the battler that you do welcome in and give a second chance to, who through being received into your Catholic community receives the grace of forgiveness and love, is changed and comes to know Jesus. If there is even a remote possibiity of that outcome happening, then who are we to close the door to them? 

      I now try to balance the needs as JW suggests. I don't do it well though. I still have a heart for the outcast! It is really hard to make those calls and I think they have represented some of the tougher decisions in my career. The intersection where professional meets pilgrim is a tough spot! 

    3. Rubyshine March 26, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      I'm a big believer in the idea that being treated fairly does not mean that everyone gets the same, it means they get what they need.

      In the classroom setting that can mean that a difficult student with a problematic homelife gets a second and third chance. It might mean that you go in really gently with the restorative chat because if you go in too sternly, too quickly then they will come out fists flying (sometimes literally) Another student may simply need a look to remind them of appropriate behaviour

      It can be hard for other students to feel that they don't get the same treatment, and there are biblical stories where some feel that one who has behaved poorly has gotten away with things, and people whinge to Jesus. As a teacher you know that you've got a better understanding of the big picture than the other students do.

      I don't think that second chances and forgiveness has to mean no consequences. I give my 2 and 4 yr old consequences, and I give my students consequences, but I try and keep them natural to the situation, "you hit your sister over the head with that book, so I'm going to hold onto it." is different to unconnected punishment eg, "you swore at me, so now you can pick up rubbish."

      Perhaps sin leading to a separation between you and God is also a natural consequence, rather than a punishment. Perhaps the current approach in schools of relationship building and restoration, rather than a merely punitive approach is very God like. Not to say God didn't punish people or get angry, but he is not simply a vengeful God.

      There comes a time when you do have to make a choice over one student vs the other 30, but there's a difference between, "I wash my hands of this child and I don't care what hapens to them" and, "I will work to find an alternative placement or plan for this child to see if someone else can meet their needs.

      The idea of writing off an 8 yr old (or any youngster) as beyond hope makes me sad, no mater how tempting it may be to feel that way.

    4. Werahiko March 26, 2014 at 6:49 pm

      The reason we get peodophiles out of schools is that they pose an on-going risk. Bullies pose a serious risk, too but can change. But if they are at the moment a danger, then they should be kept out of school, or managed with additional adult supervision. Schools need better training, better staffing and an approach based on safety rather than regarding exclusion as a punishment. It's not a punishment, it's a safety provision. In my experience also there are big differences between school cultures. When kids react to violence as if the perp had come to school forgetting to wear pants i.e. As weird and unacceptable much violence can be eliminated. Schools need help in building these cultures, which need years to develop. And forgive everyone for everything. But don't forget, or fail to make rational predictions.