Thought for the Day - BBC Radio 4 Today Programme
Monday, 24th January, 2022
Good morning. A recent story from India has made painful reading for many Catholic women. A court has acquitted a bishop who was accused by a senior nun of rape and sexual abuse. But what has alarmed many, irrespective of the verdict, is the way in which the complainant has been treated. Her character has been smeared with degrading insinuations. The media report that the bishop was praising God as he left the court, but she has been subjected to public humiliation. Catholic women’s groups around the world have written letters to offer her support and solidarity. Some have expressed concern that the fall out from this case will deter others from coming forward to report abuse.
There are aspects of this public shaming of a woman which lead me to reflect upon the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery. I imagine her traumatised and humiliated, as she was brought before Jesus by the religious authorities. The man she was accused of being with isn’t mentioned. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. Biblical scholars speculate on what he was writing, but I like to think he was showing respect by looking away. He averted the male gaze, refusing to add to her shame. He invited the person without sin to cast the first stone, and her accusers left one by one until he was alone with the woman. ‘Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Now go and sin no more.”
In the early 1960s, theologian Valerie Saiving wrote a pioneering study about how men and women might sin differently. She suggested that women’s failings might have less to do with traditional sins such as pride, lust and ambition, and more to do with a lack of self-worth and a sense of inferiority. Maybe for a woman to sin no more means to refuse to submit to public humiliation, to hold her head up high in the face of abusive power.
There is so much that troubles me in both these stories, but at the heart of the Christian faith I hear a still, small voice. Jesus stands beside all those caught up in the snares of accusation and scandal, and he refuses to join in the cries of condemnation.