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. Gedwards

    "Does Casey Anthony’s case cry out for forgiveness, even if the court found her not guilty of murder?"
    The issue is that we have a therapist who doesn't understand the judicial system. She was found "not guilty;" she wasn't found "innocent." More critically, the judicial system is not designed to establish the truth. It is designed to ensure the rights of the accused are not trampled upon, and therefor the state has a huge burden to prove guilt - rather than the accused having to prove innocence.

    The result is that many, who have actually committed the subject act, will be found "not guilty" – or won't be brought to trial at all. As the author recognizes, many people have concluded that Ms. Anthony actually killed her own daughter, and presumably that offense is considered such an evil assault to our society that they believe it overrides the far more theoretical precept of our judicial system. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • LauraJT

      "NOT guilty" means innocent. I was not in the court room. I did not follow the case at all. No, I'm not an ignorant slob living in a closet. I knew of it. I also knew the media had condemned her. Yes, her daughter was missing a long time before her Mother called the police. WHY? I don't know. Yet the prosecutors failed to explain that. They failed miserably. She's a young woman, and there's no doubt she comes from a very screwed up background. Will we ever know what happened? I doubt it. Yet I find it impossible to believe that this young woman, who obviously loved her daughter, would willfully kill her. There's much more to the story that you, I, or anyone will ever know but I do know if I were on the jury you would have to give me irrefutable evidence. Apparently, that did not happen. We do need to forgive and forgiveness is not a trait of most Americans.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:17 am |
    • Gedwards

      LauraJT, as with the author, you mistakenly equate the outcome of a jury trial with the totality of what happened. No doubt the prosecution failed to prove her guilt...she was found not guilty. Either they weren't able to demonstrate with the permissible evidence that she committed murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or there were 12 people on the jury who also "found it impossible to believe that this young woman would willfully kill her" and acquitted her.
      Either way, that does not equate to her being innocent of murdering Caylee.

      July 17, 2011 at 8:03 am |
  2. Sue

    It is so sad to find countless self-righteous people in the media.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  3. Ruby

    Forgiveness? She's not asking for forgiveness. REMEMBER? IT was an accident and she's innocent. She just has a funny way of grieving? What will you ask for next? Casey Anthony for Atty General? You need to save your quasi-Buddhism for murderers that actually ask for it. Not for those who exploit it.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  4. Alison

    I do not believe that the jurors were swayed one bit by the Defense's attempt to misdirect and confuse. The prosecution did not present a convictable case. Period. Had these people been swayed by emotion, they, like Nancy Grace and most of the posters here, would have inserted the needle into her arm in the courtroom. I see we haven't gotten any smarter since the Salem Witch Trials.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Kate

      I'm sorry... but you are an idiot.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • Ruby

      You need to study the Salem Witch Trials. None were accused of murder. Only of being a witch. Not the case here, though. Although I think the State of Florida could have gotten a guilty verdict on a witch charge easily.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:55 am |
  5. zoundsman

    I never believed anyone could forgive crimes that were IMO "over the edge." My first shock was the Amish in immediately
    forgiving the murderer of the massacre of their school girls. They comforted the murderer's family, and placed flowers
    on the murder's grave. I learned something that day I read that news article, I'll never forget ... along with a deep
    respect for the Amish.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:40 am |
  6. scarecrow58

    When it comes to "man's inhumanity to man", I just not the forgiving type. As for the one that forgave the german doctor and all other nazis criminals. I would venture to say there were over six million murder victims that didn't.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  7. Tom Hartman

    "you just know from all the evidence? oh, the evidence you saw on tv you mean? how about you leave the verdicts to the judges and juries, k?"

    Virtually ANY other 12 people would have found her guilty, get real. She won the lottery, this has nothing to do with justice.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  8. John


    July 17, 2011 at 2:38 am |
  9. Tom Hartman

    Usually one forgives someone who is truly remorseful over what they have done, in this case, apparently Casey didn't do anything, and the baby must have duct taped her own mouth and nose and then threw herself into the wood while Mom was out dancing and getting tatoos and lying to everyone.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:37 am |
  10. Binky

    Forgiveness for Casey Anthony? Only if it involves duct tape WITHOUT chloroform.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • Kate

      Well said Binky.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:55 am |
  11. David

    She's white and pretty. Of course we should be thinking about this!

    Thanks Patrick. If I could paint O.J. white and give him boobs and a thin body... pladow!! Forgiven. It's better than prayer to jesus!

    But I like how you went all the way back to the NAZIs to somehow make your point. Couldn't pull something more relevant in America, like the racism here, or the abuse of people of color by a racist system that FAVORS WHITE WOMEN in court for instance.

    Here I'll practice it, I'll practice YOUR therapy doc..

    I forgive white people here for being so compassionate when a white person is the defendant in a courtroom, but are so bloodthirsty when it's a black person.

    I forgive you for that blatent racism.

    Oh but maybe it would help if you'd admit it.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • Chief

      This is the most absurd comment ever. The OJ case was in '94, nearly 20 years ago. Couldn't you find something more recent to make your case how the justice system is so blatantly racist?

      As far as our racist bloodthirsty culture... it seems to me that OJ continued to live a public life as himself, and I never recalled speculation he would have to change his name or get plastic surgery just to survive living anywhere in America. Yet this White woman is so hated that she'll probably have to take these extreme measures.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • Ashley Pash

      Uhm, excuse me... but I'm not really sure this is the case here. Racism is a complex issue, but you can't expect that people's minds change solely on that. I think she should have fried solely on the basis that she didn't report her baby missing. I'm white... I don't trust her and think she's really lucky she didn't get nailed to the wall. For some godforsaken reason the evidence just wasn't there, I think reasonable doubt was way misguided in this case.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Ashley Pash

      And furthermore, I think she should be re-tried in a different court just like OJ was.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  12. RedRooster

    Forgiveness for murder? Shut up!!!

    July 17, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  13. Ahmed Johnson

    why no more postings? to true for the CNN opinion?

    July 17, 2011 at 2:30 am |
    • Ahmed Johnson

      Cowards to censor me. I will take it out on some poor feminsit at the nearby college. you liberal pigs.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  14. Anthony_prof

    Per our legal system, which is a foundation of our unique society, I ask "what is there to FORGIVE?" This presupposes that she is guilty. Maybe she is. BUT a jury of her peers found her not guilty. And THAT, a respect for a system of our peers' conclusions and their unbiased review of a case, is what makes the US innocent.

    "Unbiased" does not mean "they didn't vote like I would have." It means they reviewed the evidence to convict her, and it wasn't there in their view. YOUR view–yeah, you-doesn't matter, because you did not have the misfortune of devoting weeks of your life to something like this.

    Respect the law and respect the people who enforce it-including this jury. "forgiveness" has nothing to do with it.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:30 am |
    • Tracie

      @ Anthony_prof..I couldn't agree with you more. You are the first person I see on here besides myself that isn't blaming the jury for this. I don't understand why people don't see that? Maybe the jury would have convicted her has the Prosecution actually had a case agianst her that proved something other than the fact that Casey was a liar.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  15. Tracie

    I say we go to "eye for and eye" justice over here. Forget this trial BS and all the appeals and prisoners sitting on death row for years using up tax payer money to get their college degrees behind bars. (really?) This is just out of control. I wish the prosecution would have had that smoking gun that would have found her guilty and then immediately after the verdict, they take her outside and chloroform and duct tape her and put her in a garbage bag and throw her to the gators.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • IndianaJohn

      you even read the article? for good or bad, she was acquitted, are you like magnum pi or columbo? you just know from all the evidence? oh, the evidence you saw on tv you mean? how about you leave the verdicts to the judges and juries, k?

      July 17, 2011 at 2:34 am |
  16. David

    Oh and please notice the racist double standard here. My god will you oh doctor forgiveness also forgive O.J. Simpson? Michael Vick only got what he felt he deserved... your words Patrick, not mine.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:26 am |
    • bargirl

      i don't think michael vick was that bad. we slaughter animals to eat all day long. honestly, who truly cares about animals? dogs, what a tragedy.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  17. Rahsheem

    The media sucks a$$, now that she's out all the news outlets is talking that "is Casey Anthony in danger" BS "she'll probably need security"...listen you know most of America is a bunch of bandwagon follower, or shall I say to be politically correct (Media Driven) y'all 'the media' need to quit hyping people up to go after and give this woman a hard time once she gets out..starting more drama so you 'the media' can have something more to talk about.....y'all 'the media, and its bandwagon followers' suck BAD...Im glad she's out!!!

    July 17, 2011 at 2:24 am |
    • Kate

      She's coming to get you!

      July 17, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  18. David

    Forgiveness comes after a confession of guilt is made.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:23 am |
  19. peterg

    Forgive everyone, abolosh the penal system and let no one face consequences for their actions.

    This is Patrick Wanis in a nutshell.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:23 am |
  20. JKB

    When my daughter heard that she was found not guilty, she made this succinct point: So this gives all other young and tired single mothers the impression that they too can kill their child, lie about it and not have to worry about the death penalty or even long term prison if they can hide the body long enough. There are a lot of hiding places in the US and all you have to do is move not even 50 miles away conceal the lack of a child.
    We forgive. We rationalize. We explain. But we don't learn before we forgive. When does forgiveness help the next child whose mother is young, single and dragged down by a child and rationalizes it by "I can lie it all away". Did Jesus's forgiveness help the Jews in the Holocaust when they again we blamed for Christ's death? Did Eva's forgiveness help the serbs? How about Africa and the mass murders there? We forgive and it comes right back to bite us in the butt because we didn't learn.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:22 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.