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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. Shmo

    The doctor makes a solid case for not dwelling on things that one has no ability to change and do not necessarily affect them directly. A solid case for moving on. But forgiveness? Please.

    A mother who would kill her 3 year old child does not "deserve" forgiveness. Neither did Nazis involved in the Holocaust "deserve" the forgiveness of a survivor. If the particular survivor wants to give forgiveness, then that is his/her decision. That does not mean it was earned.

    I haven't dwelled on the case, I hadn't even really thought about since the day of the verdict until seeing the articles about her release. I was outraged at the time, and moved on. I suggest others do the same, but doing so does not mean what Anthony did was forgiveable.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Sheri

      Well said!

      July 17, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Michael Jardine

      I must, respectfully, disagree with you, Shmo. From the perspective you present, it appears that you think that Forgiveness is about what happens with the perpetrator. Forgiveness is not about THEM, Schmo. It is about YOU. Forgiveness allows you to move past the pain, stop being the victim, and, in this case, after the not guilty verdict, will allow everyone to let Casey Anthony go away.

      I believe that True Forgiveness comes to those who don't deserve it. That is the very best meaning of Forgiveness; you don't deserve it, but you are going to get it anyway. If we only forgive those who "deserve" it, then we are sliding down a slippert slope from which we can't stop. Who then, deserves it? You for your sins? Me for mine? Who decides? Will it be you, me or a jury of our peers? God? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? Who? I we only forgave those that we deemed "worthy" or "deserving" of Forgiveness, it would lose its more True and Deeper meaning. Forgiveness should not and cannot be reserved solely for those we like.

      If we start to believe from the very beginning that we are all God's creatures (and, with some, His Madmen) and each of us, is worthy of Forgiveness, gone is this notion of who is deserving of Forgiveness of whatever Sin.

      July 17, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  2. Maxine

    The only ones who need and deserve forgiveness are the jurors who served up this egregious miscarriage of justice. Casey Anthony deserves nothing but pain and unhappiness for the rest of her natural life. Every night when she closses her lying eyes she needs to imagine someone putting duct tape over her mouth and nose, slipping her into a plastic bag, and dropping her in a swamp someplace. Then she needs to imagine struggling for air, crying in the dark, and wondering why someone she loves did this to her. Why Mommy???

    July 17, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  3. DVAESQ

    Along with whatever Casey Anthony did or didn't do, the press and Nancy Grace have made it virtually impossible to talk of forgiveness right now or maybe ever. There was never a day when we weren't saurated with this sad case.

    Since Nancy Grace kept this in our faces, let her go first. Let's see Dr. Wanis go on her show and make the argument for forgiveness.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  4. Jason Michalski

    I 1000% agree on this article. I think we as a society aren't as forgiving as we should be. do you think Casey deserves to suffer for her daughters death? I don't think she should because none of how we feel, will bring Caylee back. If you wish harm on her, then your just as emotionally unstable as she is.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • EMMITT

      Really? she killed her duaghter and doesnot deserveto suffer for it......your thinking is part of the reason why this countries legal system has gone south and those jurrors walked away from their responsibilitiy.....Casey deserves to suffer the rest of her life and she will....

      July 17, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  5. Morton

    One more reason why religion is idiotic and should be forbidden.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • dean

      You win the prize for the stupidest comment today!

      July 17, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  6. Mary Woodward

    You have GOT to be kidding me! What is there to FORGIVE her for when she isn't even responsible enough to admit she did anything wrong? What would you forgive her for? Ha! What a joke.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  7. Morton

    Forgiving would be unfair for those who got life or death row for similar crimes.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  8. William

    Forgiveness is liberating as Eva stated about the heavy weight of suffering being lifted from her shoulders. As none of us are perfect, forgiveness is essential if we expect others to do the same for our faults. All of us have been hurt AND hurt others either by words or acts. I agree with one of the comments that if you don't forgive you are a prisoner.

    It's sad that in today's society people can harbor such hate and desire to see another person put to death. With regard to the Casey Anthony trial, it seems like some would say, "Never mind the facts, execute her!" Good thing they weren't around when Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Instead of giving it thought, dropping the rock and walking away, I could see some pushing Jesus out of the way to satisfy their lust for blood.

    Last, it is not our place to forgive Casey Anthony. She did nothing to us. Rather, it is our place to exercise caution and restraint since to this day, we DON'T know how Caylee died. Without credible evidence and cause of death UNDETERMINED, she very well could have accidentally drowned. In that case, the crowds who have condemned Casey, even after the verdict, may need to ask her for forgiveness.

    Great article!

    July 17, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • kathleen

      We do know that 2 1/2 year old Caylee Marie Anthony's body was wrapped in a garbage bag and left in an area of a swamp where people dump their garbage to rot. We do know that kc anthony was Caylee Marie Anthony's mother. We do know that for 31 days kc partied and lived her bella vitta, giving no one a clue as to Caylee Marie Anthony's being missing or dead. We do know if it wasn't for cindy anthony confronting the issue, we likely still would not know Caylee Marie Anthony was missing or dead. We do know that the trunk kc's car stunk of human decomposition. Given that 2 1/2 year old Caylee Marie Anthony is dead, it's not too much of a leap to put her body in the trunk of kc's car. We do know that from mid July to mid December 2008, kc lied about the events surrounding 2 1/2 year old Caylee Marie Anthony's disappearance/death. We do know that while speaking to her parents in the Orlando jail, kc smiled, giggled, laughed and expressed great concern for her situation while the body of 2 1/2 year old Caylee Marie Anthony was lying in the swamp being eaten by maggots.
      So, not to belabour the point William, no we do not have to ask kc for forgiveness. she is truly a disgusting and depraved individual and your support of her screams of your own character.

      July 17, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • EMMITT

      Jesus is a charactor in a fiction book. In order to forgive one must first release the truth, because the truth shall set you free. And from the same gospel you spout the sayings of Jesus, the same fiction novel spouts an eye for eye. She is an evil;erson and deserves to suffer for this crime....

      July 17, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  9. Nino LaRocca

    she deserves NO FORGIVENESS ONLY TO ROT IN HELL SHE IS GUILTY AND ONLY MORONS COULD LET HER GO AND THAT'S WHAT THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IS JUSTICE FOR CRIMINALS CASEY ANTHONY did EVERYTHING TO convict herSelf and 12 morons set her free what a joke R.I.P Caylee

    July 17, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • dean

      too bad all your caps don't make your statement less stupid.

      July 17, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  10. POD

    You can forgive a person who has wronged you......but you can never forget the wrong that was done to you.....and when that memory stirs form time to time....the first emotion that pops into your head is not forgiveness,,,,,trust me. You then have to start the cycle of hatred, revenge and forgiveness all over again.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  11. In2Caps

    It's not my place to forgive Casey Anthony. I don't know her; she didn't do anything to me or anyone I know. But, if you want to talk about "forgiveness," that isn't even a conversation that can begin without her telling the truth. Regardless of whether you think she killed Caylee or believe the drowning story (or something else entirely), it isn't the death itself that has caused this level of hatred. It is the refusal to explain what happened to her daughter (and her apparent lack of grief or concern over it). What are "we" to forgive her FOR? Without THAT, it's impossible to even consider forgiveness because there is no concrete act to forgive. She has created this firestorm and only she can take the first steps to end it.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  12. Buffalo2002

    Our justice system may let off guilty people, and it may convict innocent people. But the religious system after weve left this life will be final judge and jury of our guilt or innocence.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  13. LicenseToSteal

    There is no reason to forgive her. Perhaps forget her. You can only forgive those that ask for forgiveness.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • dean

      Not true–but i forgive you for lying. even though you didn't ask for forgiveness

      July 17, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  14. Brian

    What a stupid blog from an attention-craving blogger with a pseudo Ph.D. Casey just got away with murder but let's add insult to injury and forgive her, too. And let's not stop here, let's open the prison gates for all murderers since we forgive them. Let's hope that forgiving will create a utopia where we can all live in denial and harmony. What a stupid thing for CNN to post.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • dean

      and they published your stupid comment!

      July 17, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  15. Release

    After release her and Baez went directly back to his office...............A little more pro-bono work I see......

    July 17, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  16. Perplexed

    "Eva read a confession of guilt from the doctor" What is missing for me is some confession of guilt from Casey Anthony. I don't spend much time thinking about Casey Anthony, and I might forget but forgiveness just isn't in the cards.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  17. mike

    For God's sake...
    STOP reporting on this STUPID case.
    We DON'T care about it.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Beth Bayley

      I agree with you. The American court system decided she wasn't guilty. The fact that the mob mentality of some don't agree is irrelvant.

      July 17, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • News Flash

      right mike with a small m, we don't care about it. That's why there are 25 pages of comments about it, OMFG

      July 17, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  18. Grace Marie

    I wonder if we would be calling for the country's "forgiveness" if she was found not guilty of murdering a black man or a gay with the exact evidence produced. I doubt it.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  19. Donna LeGoo

    Your article was moving and on target. A few days after the verdict, I was very troubled, not with anger for lack of justice, but just deep basic sadness. There were three child deaths in a past home city...boys aged 3,4 & 5, all of which were from both domestic violence and child abuse. Then recently another horrible tragedy, a 8yr boy brutally murdered in New York. When I focused my attention on one news story, I failed to realize that there are so many "Caylees'" out there, past, present, and most likely future. No doubt the world may appear ugly sometimes but I believe that anger is the true root behind the abuse and violence which leads to these senseless deaths. Sometimes you just got to let it go....RIP Caylee, and I will remember you.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  20. JonDie

    It's nice to see that so many Americans have so little to worry about that they can dedicate their lives to following the Casey Anthony story. But on the other hand, it's pathetic to see that so many Americans live such empty, hate-filled lives that they can dedicate their lives to following the Casey Anthony story. The "funniest" sign I've seen is the one about God taking care of Caylee: God already took care of Cayley, that's why she's dead.

    July 17, 2011 at 9:23 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.