Child Abuse and Forgiveness: Celebrity Responses Cause Controversy

by Randy Peyser



Dr. Lois Einhorn, author of "Forgiveness and Childhood Abuse: Would YOU Forgive?,", posed the following question about child abuse to 53 celebrity responders, authors, politicians, death row inmates, clergymen, therapists, and other professionals:

  • You are a child in a family that sadistically abuses.
  • You are forced to torture and destroy.
  • What should you do now as an adult?
  • Do you forgive your parents?
  • How do you forgive yourself?

As a child, Einhorn, who is a recipient of the "Heroine of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Peace Award" - an honor which she shares along with Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Bishop Desmond Tutu - was forced by her parents to hurt or kill live animals, perform torturous acts upon her sister, have sadistic acts performed upon herself, and endure years of physical and sexual child abuse.

With no desire to forgive her mother or father, Einhorn sent the question above to people whom she considered to be her personal heroes, and then expanded to include others from all walks of life.

Replies, which varied greatly, included:

Ed Asner, actor and activist: "I am glad you don't forgive your parents."

Patch Adams, celebrity and physician: "There is no future without forgiveness."

Thomas Eagleton, former U.S. Senator, Vice-Presidential nominee: "My initial response to your letter was that you were a 'kook'."

Robert Muller, co-founder, United Nations: "I urge you to forgive your parents."

Dr. Richard Vatz, political commentator, frequently on CNN, "Crossfire" and "Larry King Live:" "It would be impossible for me to forgive those who affected the sadistic abuse."

Dr. Albert Ellis, founder, Rational-Emotive Therapy: "If I were abused as a child and forced to torture and abuse others, I would still unconditionally accept myself and my family members who tortured me."

Numerous respondents drew comparisons to Hitler and Nazi Germany, including Daniel Quinn, author of "Ishmael," who said, "If for some reason your parents deserve forgiveness, then they deserve it not only from you, but from all humanity, for their crimes were crimes against humanity, as surely as were the crimes of Josef Mengle or Adolf Eichmann."

Rabbi Steven L. Jacobs, child of a Holocaust survivor and professor at the University of Alabama, replied: "…that your parents died without having confronted their own crimes, like far too many of the Nazis before them, proves them guilty of their crimes and worthy of condemnation.

But not all comparisons to Nazi Germany yielded such sympathetic responses. The most controversial reply came from Arun Gandhi, grandson of the late Mahatma Gandhi, and founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, who said, "Most Jews have not forgiven the Nazis for the holocaust… It is this inability of the Jews to forgive and heal that leads to their excessive violence towards the Palestinians."

Determined not to censor, edit, or delete any responses, Einhorn, who is of Jewish descent, gasped at the reply but allowed Gandhi, as well as every other respondent, to voice their opinions, regardless of whether or not she agreed. Equally challenging for the Professor of Communication at Binghamton's State University of New York was a response from Rev. Bernard Bush, a minister at the University of San Francisco, who told Einhorn that she "should" forgive her parents, as though it was a commandment she must obey. (Not one of the defrocked priests to whom she sent her question replied.)

Surprisingly, after reading every response, finding healthy ways to release her rage (e.g. breaking Salvation Army china plates), and writing a letter of completion to each of her parents, Einhorn, who was intent about not forgiving her parents, reached a place of forgiveness.

Said Einhorn, "Forgiveness is not a goal; it is a by-product of healing. When you heal, you automatically forgive." Laura Davis, author of "The Courage to Heal," and an internationally recognized expert in the field of child sexual abuse, concurs. In her own healing process, Davis discovered that after twenty years, and quite to her amazement, she had also reached a state of forgiveness.

Her advice? "Trying to forgive when we are beginning to heal undermines the healing process. Focus on the healing. Forgiveness will take care of itself." No one has to feel alone anymore.

Lois Einhorn invites readers to post their responses to her question: "Would you forgive?" Answers may be posted at


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