In 2006 I read a headline for a book review of The Hook. It read:
COVER- 'I harmed you': 21 years, 12 steps later, rape apology backfires
It was about that rather famous case of William Beebe and Liz Seccuro. In college Beebe had raped Seccuro. He had not been convicted. 20 years later, struggling with alcoholism Beebe, in a bid to make amends wrote Seccuro and asked for forgiveness. She did not forgive him, but rather sent him to jail. Liz remains bitter and angry and William, according to one report is moving on, having done what he could to make amends.
Now, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this case. I have no intention of choosing up sides. Seccuro has every right to refuse forgiveness. Beebe was making an attempt to recover from Alcoholism and in doing his step work was responding to Step 8: Make a list of people you have harmed. And then Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. I’m not going to discuss whether or not his amends was advisable as Seccuro was bitter about the reopening of old wounds. Nor am I going to criticize her response.
What I want to discuss here is the supposition that Beebe’s attempt at amends backfired. If Beebe’s amends were sincere, with no intent to do harm; and if he was willing to do whatever it took to make those amends; and if in the end he finds healing from the guilt and damage he inflicted on himself, while harming her, it is all he can do and is enough. If in the end, he finds the healing he needs, the process has not backfired, has not failed him, but has helped him move on.
Those who are working Steps 8 and 9 are counseled to let go of the outcome. We who have done wrong and harmed another, all of us, need to be willing to do whatever is in our power to make restitution for the crimes we commit. Of course there are things we cannot restore, like a person’s virtue and feeling of safety and well-being. Such things as Beebe stole from Seccuro. He must do what he can, but he has no control over her response. One account I read of this incident indicated that Beebe knew, going in that incarceration might be an outcome. Still, he was willing to do whatever it took to make amends. He also offered to reimburse his victim for therapy costs she may have incurred. The offer was greeted with accusations of bribery. I can’t judge which it was. But if he was sincere, it still didn’t matter what her response was, he was doing what he could.
This is an important story. We all mistreat others, hopefully not as heinously as Beebe mistreated Seccuro. We also all get mistreated. The consequence, in either case exacts a heavy toll. Only through being willing to do whatever it takes to resolve the problem can we find the healing we seek – even if that means prison.
Now, Seccuro is not responsible for what happened to her. Even so, she has been deeply hurt by it. She too, can personally benefit by seeking and giving forgiveness. She didn’t create her problem or its consequences, but she must own it. What Beebe did was for his own healing, not for hers. It is she who must take the steps to do whatever is necessary to recover from the damage Beebe has done to her.
Now, one final and very important concept in this process; it is Jesus Christ who ultimately forgives and heals. This is critical to Beebe as he has broken things he cannot fix. It is also critical for Seccuro, who requires the healing touch of the master too. Part of that healing for her, will require that she eventually find forgiveness for her assailant. Jesus said, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” He doesn’t expect us to somehow conjure that up from with our own guts. He offers that peace as we humbly accept His forgiveness for our own transgressions. As a wise man once put it, “He who refuses to forgive, burns the bridge over which he too must cross.”
The making of amends and the offering of forgiveness go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. They are like the two blades of a pair of scissors, useful only in tandem.