The Limits of Forgiveness?

To my friends I’m known as a forgiving person. I don’t usually have to work at it the way many do, but forgiveness like any other worthwhile value requires thought and lots of love. That was particularly true of forgiving those who hurt two people I love–a paralyzed sister and a father with Alzheimer’s. Periodically, however, my forgiveness gets tested as it was when I read about Josef Fritzl, an Austrian electrician living in Amsetten, a little town not that far from Vienna. The American press hasn’t done much reporting about this story, but Der Spiegel, a German daily I read weekdays (in English) has been following it. Fritzl, it was accidentally discovered, kept his daughter, Elizabeth, prisoner in a basement dungeon for 24 years! If that’s not enough, he continually raped her, so much so he fathered seven children. Some he somehow decided to take above ground having her write letters that would sufficiently explain to the authorities what they needed to know so that he could adopt them. One died and he is said to have incinerated the body. The other 3 lived underground with their mother, and witnessed the ongoing rapes. While Elizabeth who was 18 when she was taken prisoner had seen daylight, the 3 children with her, the oldest being 19 years-old, never had.
As I read day after day–police and others are still in the process of discovering facts and piecing the story together–I realized it was the kind of event like the Holocaust testing the limit of my forgiveness. How could Josef Fritzl be forgiven? This wasn’t a wanton act, this was consistent,willful, premeditated, something that was not only one reprehensible act, but a series of them: kidnapping, imprisonment, rape, incest, mental and physical abuse, child endangerment, probably murder. The more facts emerge, the more it seems Fritzl is everything a human monster can be. How can someone like that be forgiven?
A few days later in the same Der Spiegel I read an interview with the Dalai Lama who has long been in a position of having to forgive the Chinese for the torture and the harm they have done to Tibetans. In addition, the Chinese government has recently called him a criminal and a beast, among other ugly names. When the interviewer asked if he was angry, the Dalai Lama explained how his faith kept him from anger and negative emotions, and then in an attempt to place the accusations into perspective, he suggested that blood samples be taken from him in order to determine if he was truly a beast.
It’ll still require time, thought and effort for me to forgive someone like Josef Fritzl, but if the Dalai Lama can forgive the Chinese’s atrocities in Tibet I am reminded that forgiveness is in order if I want to live a harmless life. It does not mean Mr. Fritzl can be absolved of his actions, it just means individuals like me ought to overcome their revulsion, anger and judgment and instead delve deeper into what creates a spirit of forgiveness.