I am grateful for all of the recent media attention shedding light on one of the darkest of topics: sexual predators. This focus has caused me to look deep within to continue to find a way for myself that goes beyond forgiveness towards prayer for the predator as well as those who suffer at their hands. As a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest as a young teenager and later as the victim of rape by a health practitioner, I feel a kinship with all who have been terrified, molested or raped by anyone in a position of authority or trust: a coach, a teacher, a minister, a doctor, a counselor, a family friend, or a relative.
I believe in the power of prayer. According to both tradition and scientific study, prayer literally sends energy and love and blessings to someone else. This has been a quandary for me. Is it advisable or even spiritually lawful to send positive energy to a criminal who may misuse that energy and continue to victimize others? How do I pray for someone who shattered my universe and stole my innocence and childhood faith? How do I pray for someone who was supposed to help me heal and only caused me further trauma?
Yet there is a universal way of compassion and peace that seems to necessitate that we include all of life in our practice of prayer and forgiveness. There is a Sanskrit prayer to this effect: Lokah Samastah Sukino Bhavantu. The meaning of this something like, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free”. Wow. Am I really to pray for ALL beings? Does this include those who are unrepentant and continuing to harm others? How do I do this while still maintaining safe boundaries for myself and others?
I want to pray and love freely and inclusively, yet I want to avoid praying in a way that might send energy that could inadvertently boost the horrendous behavior of predators or that would imply acceptance or approval of their criminal acts. And now, decades after the trauma that I experienced, I think I have found a way to pray for the predators as well as their victims.
I can pray for their souls. I will not pray for the human personalities of those who chose to harm me or others or for the identities they have created that are capable of both covert and flagrant crimes, but only for their souls. That may sound ridiculously archaic and legalistic, but this approach gives me great joy and comfort.
If the soul is the part of us at the core of our being that is still pure and good and honorable, I can pray for that. If there is a seed of God that still exists within such a person, I can pray for that.
I can pray for the part of a predator that is salvageable. I can pray for the pearl that may yet exist under suffocating layers of misuse and abuse and selfishness. I can honestly say with my whole heart and spirit: “May God bless your soul!”
I can feel deep love and compassion for the soul. Ultimately, the soul of a predator is also a victim of the predator’s acts. I can feel mercy for the soul. And in my prayer for the soul distinct from the person of a predator, I am free.