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My Take: Casey Anthony and the challenge of forgiveness
July 16th, 2011
04:00 PM ET

My Take: Casey Anthony and the challenge of forgiveness

Editor's Note: Patrick Wanis, Ph.D. is a human behavior and relationship expert and therapist and author of “Finding God – Spiritual Strategies to Help YOU Find Happiness, Fulfillment and Inner Peace."

By Patrick Wanis, Special to CNN

The justice system is designed to prevent, punish and rehabilitate. But with Casey Anthony being acquitted of murdering her 2-year old daughter Caylee, many people are still full of rage and anger toward her, seeking revenge and claiming they want justice for what they continue to believe is her guilt.

But does the anger, revenge and bitterness help bring back Caylee? What positive purpose might it serve? Does Casey Anthony’s case cry out for forgiveness, even if the court found her not guilty of murder?

When we feel injured we respond or react automatically with anger. When someone hurts us, we automatically want to hurt that person back.

Because of the constant media coverage the Anthony trial garnered, many people - particularly mothers and women - felt a personal connection to the case. Their original motivation for justice for Caylee has turned into a desire for revenge.

Casey Anthony's secret release

Anger is not always a negative emotion. When someone is being attacked, you need anger to push you to action to protect the victim. It was anger and frustration that led to revolution in Egypt and that is fueling other uprisings in the Arab world.

In fact, some people have used their anger to lead a petition for “Caylee’s Law,” which would make it a felony to wait more than 48 hours to report a missing child and a felony not to report the death of a child within two hours (though different versions have been proposed in different states).

Casey did not report her missing daughter for 30 days. Such laws may represent a positive use of anger.

But staying stuck in anger, bitterness, vindictiveness or a desire for revenge does not bring about positive results. As a human behavior expert and therapist, the most common denominator of the pain, mental and emotional affliction that I see people suffer is the lack of forgiveness - the anger and pursuit of revenge against mom, dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or self for something that someone did or didn’t do.

There are surely limits to forgiveness, some say. Is Casey Anthony beyond the limit?

The secret life of Casey Anthony

It was the spring of 1944 when 10-year-old Eva Kor, her twin sister Miriam and her mother arrived in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Immediately, guards ripped both girls from their mother and they were never again to see her, their father or their older sisters.

Shortly thereafter, in a sick bay, a doctor told Eva “You have just two weeks to live.” The doctor was Josef Mengele. He had just injected her with a lethal cocktail of bacteria as part of a barbaric experiment with twins.

Eva had a strong immune system and survived but so, too, did the pain of her suffering. Her sister Miriam suffered an inexplicable disease from the injection of poison. Eva later tried to save her sister’s life by donating one of her own kidneys, but Miriam died in 1993.

In January 1995, at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Kor brought along a doctor who worked alongside Josef Mengele. Eva read a confession of guilt from the doctor who accompanied her and then shocked the world press by saying “In my own name, I forgive all Nazis.”

Casey Anthony appeals lying convictions

Eva says forgiveness led to her to inner peace and healing and she has made speeches about forgiveness across the United States in front of school groups and organizations. She teaches that forgiveness freed her from victim status.

“I felt as though an incredibly heavy weight of suffering had been lifted,” she has said. “I never thought I could be so strong… What the victims do does not change what happened. And the best thing about the remedy of forgiveness is that there are no side effects. And everybody can afford it.”

Eva is featured in the Forgiveness Project, an effort that “encourages and empowers people to explore the nature of forgiveness and alternatives to revenge.”

Most world religions promote forgiveness, an eventual end to demanding punishment or restitution. Love, forgiveness and compassion are primary teachings of Jesus.

"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Jesus said on the cross, asking God to forgive the people that were about to kill Him.

Although there are many reasons we hold onto a lack of forgiveness, the pain, anger, revenge and rage only hurt us. But forgiveness sets us free.

Even if Casey Anthony had been found guilty and were to be put to death, would that help Caylee or other living children? Would it truly free us in our hearts? Would our energy not be put to better use if we were to choose to help other children who are at this moment starving, homeless, at risk or in danger?

What if the thousands of angry people devoted that energy to helping mothers and children who have been abused or battered?

Look in your heart and ask yourself what effect the poison of anger and revenge have on you and your life. We have all wronged and we are all imperfect. Of course, murder is not the same as the wrongs that most of us commit.

But if Jesus could ask God to forgive the people that were about to murder him and if a Holocaust survivor could forgive the people that poisoned her and tried to exterminate her family, then what holds you and I back from forgiving anyone? The next time you commit a wrongdoing, won’t you be saying “Please forgive me?”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Patrick Wanis.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Crime • Opinion

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soundoff (2,071 Responses)
  1. Deborah Hill

    For those who hope to forgive her, let her first drop to her knees, her face carrying the look of burden from all that she's done to cause hurt not to herself but to another human being and let her voice begin to wane as she struggles to pour out the truth of what really happened. I want her to know what empathy feels like so when you forgive her it will be truly forgiveness.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  2. yogen shrestha

    we can forgive but is that going to serve a justice to victim. victim's right is punish the criminal.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Nacho1

      YOU have no idea who the REAL criminal is and neither did the court or the jury or the police.................you have your nose where it does not belong and especially not as a STRANGER!

      July 17, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • JusticeDelayed

      Again, Yogen Shrestha is a member of society, therefore, any crime this horrific against society IS HER BUSINESS!!!!
      She doesn't have to know the victims personally, nor do any of us, in order to demand justice be done as a member of society. I happen to think that the verdict in this case was a travesty, and that the jury, instead of using the standard 'BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, used the standard 'ALL EXPLANATIONS ARE EQUAL AND ACCEPTABLE TO EXPLAIN THIS DEATH'.
      Yes, Yogen Shrestha, you have every right to be involved in this business, as a member of our society!!!

      July 17, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      @Nacho1
      "YOU have no idea who the REAL criminal is and neither did the court or the jury or the police"
      -- JusticeDelayed is correct here, sir. By your logic, if the prosecutor does not know a criminal, and 99,999 % of the time they don't, there could be no case. Get it ? No one says Casey is the "REAL" criminal. They said she was ONE of the criminals. And a mother who does not report her daughter missing for 31 days, and lies about it to the police IS a criminal, and should have been charged with that at least.
      The stranger thing is totally irrelevant. You have obviously never taken a civics class and are a perfect example of how the school system is failing this country. The scary thing is you vote ! Society, (and MOST ARE STRANGERS) DOES have a very serious interest in the welfare of children. I happen to think this case was mishandled, (OVERCHARGED), by the prosecution, and if they had gone for manslaughter, (and the jury interviews post case have revealed it was 6/6 for a while in the jury room), they would have won something better. Why didn't they charge her with tampering with a corpse ?
      "Yes, Yogen Shrestha, you have every right to be involved in this business, as a member of our society!!!"
      Of course. Yes !!! Who else will speak for them. If you, Nacho1, are murdered, we will say, "Oh he lives two blocks away, I don't care". Oh wait ......
      You can't really be that stupid. The next time there is a murder, you mean you have to hire the mother for the judge, the father for the jury, the brother for the police, and the sister for the prosecutor. Yeah right. OMG

      July 17, 2011 at 2:28 am |
  3. jdoe

    There is nothing to forgive or not forgive. Forgiveness is an overrated concept that means different things to different people. The fact is, tragedy and injustice happen every day thousands of times all over the world. If people want to look for them they will find them. Whether you forgive somebody somewhere who did something bad, is irrelevant and besides the point. What is relevant is your level of anger. Want less of it? Watch less news or none at all, and let things be the way they are, because things just are what they are.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  4. mama panda

    I don't know if Casey is guilty or not and until I know she is (not think but know) I've no reason to forgive her. On the other hand, I am trying to forgive some posters here for being so hateful and proving it in print. It's hard, but I'm trying.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  5. Bev McMullan-Kungl

    I am like thousands of others in that I feel that justice was not served, however, Casey Anthony will have to answer for it at the end of her life on earth and will then be held accountable if she did kill her little daughter. It's still very sad that nobody will be charged for little Caylee's...may she rest in peace.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  6. jdoe

    To forgive or not forgive is besides the point. Forgiveness is an overrated concept that means different things to different people. The fact is, tragedies and injustice happen every day thousands of times all over the world. There is nothing to forgive or not forgive. Want less anger in your life? Watch a little less news, or none at all, and focus on your own life.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  7. Bill

    Forgiveness without condition is meaningless. If you forgive everyone all the time for everything, whether it be for taking a parking space, or for killing a relative, then your forgiveness has no value.

    The conditions I have for forgiveness are simple, and fair:

    The person must admit their mistake, show remorse for the mistake, and demonstrate a change in behavior to prevent that mistake from happening again.

    Casey Anthony fails on all three conditions.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • Terrial

      Bill, you miss the whole point of forgiveness. It is not made up of your conditions. You either forgive completly or not at all. No one here knows for sure what happened to Caylee. You can feel how you want, but it simply was not proven that Ms. Anthony did anything but lie. None of us have a heaven or hell to put anybody in. Let go and let God.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  8. U All R Nauseating

    Everyone seems to hate Casey and wants to see her rot in jail, but if Heaven is real, and if Caylee was accidentally killed or drowned, how to you think Caylee feels looking down on America's hatred toward her mom. It's disturbing and reminiscent of the dark ages when women were burned at the stake based on assumptions of guilt. Maybe Caylee wants her mom to live what life she can have now, because she was happy and loved those 2 years of life. People act as if Casey just decided one day to murder her daughter with no regret, maybe she accidentally killed her, maybe Caylee accidentally killed herself. Either way its tragic, but if your mom was in the same situation with your death at 2 years old, would you want her to suffer in prison the rest of her life? Or rather let her keep living and maybe create a new family who would look back in sadness of their sister Caylee's death, but thankful that they now have a chance to live themselves.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • LMick

      Really? A two year old doesn't understand life and death. No way is Caylee "looking down" and feeling a certain way about how America is hating her mother. Seriously?! Well what if Caylee is looking down and hating her mother herself? What if she is so mad because her mom killed her and she just doesn't understand why? What if she is so confused because all she had was love for her mother and her mother didn't care about her and decided to kill her? Accident or not, what if Caylee thinks her mother should have reported her dead sooner so real justice could have been served in a timely manner?

      July 17, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Kate

      Obviously you are not aware of ALL of the evidence against Casey. Those of us who know that she is guilty have heard just about every bit of evidence in this case from the beginning. We're not on a which hunt trying to burn an innocent person at the stake. The evidence is very strong and it leads directly to Casey. Your comments make you sound somewhat ignorant.

      To quote Nancy Grace... murder is something done in secret and covered up. What do murderers do when they get caught? They lie! There isn't going to be a video of Casey murdering Caylee. We as intelligent members of society, make judgments as to guilt of innocence after we've heard ALL of the evidence. Just because a few pieces of the puzzle are missing, doesn't mean that you can't see the picture. Again... think hard about this one fact: There is no plausible reason to place duct tape over the head and/or face of a child....EVER. Dead or alive... no reason whatsoever except for murder. The duct tape is the smoking gun and the defense knows it. That is why the Defense tried to frame George Anthony. The scene of Caylee's remains was a murder scene. MURDER: A missing child found decomposing in the woods wrapped in plastic bags with duct tape around the head. That is murder.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Tracie

      @Kate...please tell me how you know for a fact that Casey premeditated her daughter's murder. I know all about the duct tape and the swamp..etc. I do believe Casey is guilty, however, please tell the rest of us how you know for a fact that it was CASEY that did that. We all think she did, but when it comes to a trial like this.."thinking" isn't good enough. I want hard proof in my hands that shows she did this 100% before I would convict her.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:37 am |
    • Fredo15

      I see both perspectives here, good points Kate, but it seemed like Casey was trying to set this up as a kidnapping in the beginning. From that perspective, finding a child's face duct taped after being ditched in the woods would make complete sense. That lie fell through, so either they came out with the truth about it being a drowning and a fast coverup, or that was a lie as well. Either way, we don't know whether she killed her or not.
      When I was younger I always lied to cover up anything I could get in trouble for, from breaking a vase to breaking the car after drinking alcohol. I even withheld for two days that I broke my arm because I didn't want my parents to be mad, then I had to get it reset and a cast for 2 months. If someone in that state of mind accidentally allowed their child to die in some way, there's plenty of reason to think they would create a cover up story.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:43 am |
    • Dk

      We don't know whether she killed her, there's no legitimate evidence. LMick and Kate, you sound a bit ignorant yourselves. Why wouldn't she just drown her in the pool, or put her body there in the first place, and say "oops, my little girl drowned." She freaked out and created a cover up story.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • LMick

      I have followed this case from day one. MOST of the evidence, somehow, did not make it into trial. WHY was she at blockbuster renting movies about mothers killing their children and getting away with it? WHY was she searching on her computer killing children? WHY did she have a picture on her computer of a cartoon baby being killed? WHY was she even searching chloroform....and then, surprise, it's in her truck....along with an outline of a child? Accident of not, she could have blamed her father long ago....I mean, since she is now, saying he was there when it happened. You don't make an accident look like a murder....and if you weren't the caregiver at the time of death (since apparently George and Cindy were), then no worries for you, right? She had no reason to wait to tell anyone and then lead everyone on a wild goose chase for so long.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:31 am |
  9. Jean

    When I first read the headline I about time to forgive Casey, I was furious. I am still furious that she has gotten away with killing her child, and I'm angry with the jurists who set her free and now sit in interviews gaining money for their time served. However, I am not a family member of friend of the victim. I did not know this child, and it amazes me the anger and fury that this trial continues to ignite in me. In the end, everyone has forgotten about the child. Your article was interesting and being in recovery, I struggle with forgiveness but in the end it is what sets you free from all the hurt and all the anger. For me personally, I will just have to learn to accept the outcome of this trial and move on.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Rachel

      You were simply caught in the web of the media and, perhaps, even of Nancy Grace. The entire media situation created a national monster. Sad but true.

      If I were you, I'd try to find another way to vent your anger... by doing some good in your own life. Maybe you could help someone who is in need. This is the best thing you could do to escape what you've been imprisoned by.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Jean

      Rachel, I'm an intelligent woman and it wasn't the media coverage or Nancy Grace that fuels my anger. It is the horrific actions by Casey Anthony and what she did to her little child. The way she acted after she killed her, the way she lied to everyone and took precious police and child finder services away from people who truly needed them. The jurists were simply incapable of putting the dots together even though the prosecution laid them out nicely day by day by day. Now, it appears that they want to get rich by doing interviews. This whole case is a shameful example of human depravity.

      July 17, 2011 at 8:03 am |
  10. Motoman

    Forgiveness goes hand in hand with repentance. I could forgive Casey Anthony if she came clean. But she won't and I can't forgive her.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • BPrice

      I can forgive Casey but I'm not a God so I can't forget so what justice is there for me.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  11. Tracie

    This isn't the last we have seen of Casey Anthony. Sad but true. She loves basking in the attention as negative as it may be. She may be in hiding for a while, but sooner or later, she will be the top story on the evening news. It is unfortunate that someone or something will have to suffer at her hands again in order for her to finally be held accountable for her actions, but just wait. It's coming. Hate is wasteful energy to have anytime and especially on someone like her. I don't condone violence against her in any capacity. She isn't worth it. I really wish she would come out and tell the truth now that she can never be held accountable for her actions, here on Earth anyways, but I doubt that will ever happen. It's a truly sad situation and in the end, she has to live with that for the rest of her life. That is enough revenge for me.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  12. Done

    A murderer is on the lose. Who is responsible when(I will not say if because she will do it again) Casey takes another person's life ? Are the jurors responsible for this or the state of Florida?

    July 17, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Kristal

      the jury fxxk up common sence morons

      July 17, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • Tracie

      If casey goes out and does something like this again, then it is on Casey and not the state of FLorida or the jurors. Get real people. The jury has spoken. I personally don't agree with their decision, but they can't take it back. Saying that it's the jurors fault if she does this agian is so ignorant and irresponsible. Casey is resonsible for her actions. She should be thanking her lucky stars that she is out now and get help or something to move on in her life. She has NEVER been held accountable for anything in her life so far and her day is coming, but it's no ones fault but Casey's if she decides to break the law again. It's okay to be angry, but at least direct that anger in the right direction. Not the jurors, judge, her parents, anyone but CASEY. She got herself into this situation on her own and if she does it again, that's HER fault.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Tracie

      Casey screwed up by causing this mess in the first place and after that, I blame the prosecution for letting her back out into society. They didn't prove anything other than the fact that she is a liar who likes to party and sleep around. As bad as her actions were and still are, that was not proof for any jury to prove she murdered her daughter. They didn't even have a cause of death, so how can you say she premeditated this whole thing when we son't even know how she died?

      July 17, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  13. LMick

    Of course everyone's anger won't bring back little Caylee. Obviously people don't think that. BUT, had the right verdict been made (because even the jurors truly feel she did it), we would be happy in knowing she couldn't kill again. She wouldn't be released out into society and nobody would have to worry that she would be capable of killing again. That's where people's anger comes from. Forgiven or not, it won't change what she can and may do again to another little child.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • Matthew

      so shes free and i do not think she kill her daughter i think it was her Dad and Brother that did it i hope she has a safe life now that shes free plus the only people that know the truth is her family and GOD

      July 17, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Tracie

      They didn't find her guilty because they had no hard evidence to do so. I don't blame them for that. Hell, if my loved one were on trial, this is the kind of jury I would want. They based their decision on evidence and not how the media portrayed her or what they "think" happened. To tell you the truth, Casey is probably going to wish she had been convicted so she could stay in her solitary confinement. I would be more scared to go out into this world with everyone wanting to cause her harm. That just goes to show you how delusional she is.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  14. thereik1

    Aren't we missing something here? The author, in asking those who are angry about the child's death, and the fact that the child's mother was acquitted, also presumes, that the child's mother is guilty, or that she killed the child. Well, all this anger and so on is misplaced. The media got everyone on a roller-coaster ride with this one. For one thing, and this is to the angry mob: It's none of anyone's business. For another, the legal system in this country operates under the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.
    What this means in plain English is this. If Mr Smith witnesses and records on a video camera, Mrs Jones take a gun, and hold the barrel of the gun against her husband's forehead, and moments later, squeeze the trigger so that he dies instantly, Mr. Smith then not only reports the matter to the police, he provides them with the recorded act, – even so, she is not guilty of killing him, i.e. of murder, until the matter goes to trial and a jury makes a determination of guilt or innocence.If a jury determines she is guilty, then she is punished. If however the jury determines she is not guilty, it means 'end of story' or, 'there is nothing more to be said'. Thus, all this talk about forgiveness, and what to do with your anger is rather boring. Let all who are angry and upset mind their own business or else take an aspirin.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • LMick

      Just because the justice system says someone isn't 'legally guilty' does not make them any less guilty in real life. That's the messed up part about the justice system. So of course people aren't going to just let it go.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  15. ChrisHamilton

    What a FOOL this psychologist is. You cannot give forgiveness to somebody who has not first asked for it, or taken responsibility for their wrongdoing, which Kasey hasn't, in any way or on any level. She is an uncaring, unconscionable sociopath, plain and simple, and will continue to hurt others until the day comes that justice finally does catch up to her.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  16. swelljoe

    ....AND NOW SHE HAS BEEN RELEASED.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  17. swelljoe

    i teach my kids to respect other people, to not lie, to not cheat, to not steal, to not be promiscuous, to not murder.....cretin anthony has made a MOCKERY of our justice system with her lies and manipulation. and this is telling my kids THAT kind of behavior is tantamount to celebrity, and riches, fame. HOW DISGUSTING.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  18. glaird

    Dr. Wanis is generally right in that forgiveness is commanded by God and not doing so, only hurts oneself. But I might also point out that Ms. Anthony did not commit a crime against me or likely anyone else reading this article. So forgiveness is not an issue. Nor is vengeance. God will dispense justice in His timing, most certainly. I think that instead of using the word forgive, we should be talking about forget and move on.
    I think CNN should do a service to the community and absolutely "forget" this person ever existed and never report on her again. I never want to hear about this again. And if all other readers just forget, they can avoid ruining a part of their lives unnecessarily as well.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • ari

      I agree with your assessment...the problem is that the majority of the angry mob folks do not subscribe to God's command to forgive but have adopted their own doctrine of forgiveness. My comment is that if their are any Christians out there who are aligned with the angry mob crowd just know that God instucts us to forgive in the same way He has forgiven us of our sins. That assumes that there is a basis for forgiveness. We should probably forgive out of control media, lusting for ratings, led by "Nanny" Grace and her wannabe, Jane ?? who spun the trial each evening and has got many of these folks so-fired up with their"Tot-Mom" rants....sickening.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • Giulia

      You are so right. None of us commenting are involved with that little girl or her family so why is our forgiveness so important? If she is (Ms. Anthony), as cold blooded as she seems, do you really think she cares if us the public forgives her or not? People...just forget this story and move on...

      July 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  19. Marc

    This guy just wants to prevent the anger from causing harm to other people in the form of stress and mental disorder. HOWEVER, he needs to remember that the anger is not just for the injustice, not just for the innocent little girl viciously murdered by her mother, but ALSO for her FUTURE kids, who will eventually get in her way and ruin her fun. Even if she's smart enough not to kill her next child, she can hide abuse. This woman needs to have a bullet in her head. THAT would be justice.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  20. SurRy

    She was charged with a crime. Tried by a jury of her peers. Found not guilty. It is called the American justice system.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:27 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.