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. Charles Macintosh

    If editorialists could be charged with felony stupid, Mr. Wanis would certainly be convicted.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  2. Grant

    I for one do not accept the very premise of reigious forgiveness.The murder,the wars and the heartache in the name of religion and/or Christianity will not allow me to venture further down the path of forgiveness on that premise.As far as seeking forgiveness,I've never lived by that model.I,personally believe in retribution,forgiveness or the wont thereof is self indulgent comfort after the fact.Punishment,in whatever form is what transgression deserves,it is what justice deserves and in this instance justice was not served.Would I seek to avenge in order to appease my anger,no but then would I feel badly if something ever happened to Casey Anthony,I would have to say no.It would not upset me one bit to know that I derived any sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that forgiveness aside perhaps some other form of divine intervention had occured.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  3. peacedog

    what gets me is that when a sports start (oj) or a pop star (mj) were obviously guilty but found innocent, people cheered. but when some middle class liar is found innocent, even though she probably had something to do with her child's death, people are up in arms and want to kill her. we live in one messed up, biased society.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  4. WhoDoYouThinkYouAre?

    Why is it that a news agency is trying to tell us how we should feel and the appropriate reactions we should have? How is this reporting? Do articles like this actually influence some of us to change our opinions and beliefs because 'a therapist said people would be better off forgiving her."?

    July 17, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • lotus

      I agree with you. I have my own opinion and feelings, it's my right. When I think of the little girl, sorry, I can not find any forgivness for this woman. Let her liar family and her attorneys and therapists forgive her, not I.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  5. KatyaKatya

    I am rather for forgiveness, but to be forgiven, a person needs either to repent or really not know what they were doing. I somehow don't see that either one is the case here. Pray that I am wrong.
    And yes, God exists.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  6. BB

    Caylee's Law is one way to create something positive for others as a result of her death. Something else – volunteer to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate in your state making you an advocate for other abused and neglected children.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  7. Doug

    The bigger issue here is why the media keeps exploiting personal family tragedies for entertainment (and, by extension, ad revenue) value, at the expense of reporting on issues that are profoundly tragic and in need of attention that could make a difference for thousands, maybe millions of people.

    Casey Anthony, Jaycee Dugard, JonBenet Ramsey, etc… are terrible personal tragedies for a few individuals and the people close to them, but they represent no pattern in society (mothers aren’t killing their daughters everywhere, nor are pervs regularly kidnapping kids and keeping them in dungeons for 18 years, fathering their kids) that demands this kind of media attention.

    This is just media exploitation of both the victims and the public, which comes away from the media attention with a totally unrealistic world outlook. Nancy Grace, in particular, should be ashamed of herself, as should be many of the media people who spend inordinate amounts of time on these things, fanning the flames of hatred and vengeance among the ignorant public. Meanwhile, 20,000 children die EVERY DAY around the world from diseases related to lack of clean water for drinking and sanitation. Where’s the Nancy Grace show on that? Where’s the telethon for that? That’s just one day’s toll (six times larger than 9/11, and EVERY DAY), and counting only the children victims (one every 3 seconds) of our global greed and inhumanity to man. Attention to these profoundly more important issues could lead to political changes that could help so many people, but the Diane sawyers of the world prefer instead to interview Jaycee Dugard on the big ratings show. Disgusting. The public needs to wake up to the real suffering and tragedies going on around the planet, but they never will with Fox News, CNN, et al in change of the spin.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • lotus

      Media is business, we like to read the news. Whether you like Nancy Grace or not or any other reporters is up to you, turn your TV off or rent movies. Like the old movie THE BAD SEED. Very educative.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  8. Aaron

    I hope she turns up dead. Overdose, vigilante or whatever.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • sylvia saenz

      It is not your place to judge. She's been judged and found not guilty. Nobody knows if she commited that crime or not, but she was acquitted. So, get a life, learn the law, and keep your nose to the grindstone. God is in charge now.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  9. Forgive?

    How can you forgive someone for something that they never admitted?

    How can you forgive someone who never showed any remorse?

    True, only GD knows what happened, but only GD can decide if he is willing to forgive her!

    July 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Michelle

      I'm with you on this one – forgiveness? As for me, why would I forgive an act of killing an innocent child who is thrown in a trash bag and left in a swampy wooded area to have her remains eaten by animals? Why would I forgive a total lack of remorse, empathy, or lack of accountability for the death of a priceless child? To forgive that, is to say well if someone kills any child – that's ok we'll just forgive it. Not on my watch ...Casey Anthony got away with murder (or reckless endangerment) of a defenseless child...PERIOD. Her astounding lies, her lack of remorse, destroying her immediate family lives, and the reputation of others (i.e. Zanny lie). We should NOT forgive such shameless acts. We can feel sorry for her pathetic actions sure...but forgive the acts? Not on my watch. Forgiveness is the equivalent of complacency.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • lotus

      And why do you abreviate the name of GOD?

      July 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  10. Ellen

    Get on with your lives people, she was found not guilty. It's between her and God now, I find it so hard to believe that these people can't get on with their lives and are stuck on revenge. It's not for you to decide.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  11. Cherrios

    I will only agree to forgiveness, if Casey Anthony apologizes and asks for forgiveness. I doubt she will say anything like that anytime soon. She does not seem to have learned from this experience. Now, that she is off the hook, she can go party, all she wants now. No one is stopping her, like when she had a beautiful daughter. Be wild, Casey... be a party animal, again. Drink all you want because you are a free woman.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • sylvia saenz

      Casey doesn't give a flying flip whether any of us forgive her or not. What is wrong with you? Why should she ask you for forgiveness, Oh Great One! Take some casses in Logic, Psychology and Philosophy. Learn, learn, learn. I have three degrees, one in law. Learn and you will see the difference.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  12. Saffron

    I'm never forgiving her but I am 100% determined to FORGET her and will not contribute $0.01 to her earnings.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • sylvia saenz

      Have you heard her ask anyone for anything?

      July 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  13. drgherman

    Look back at the tapes of the trial and count how many times did Casey look up at her lawyer with her eyes and and hold his hands? Do you think his wife approved of this and how long till there is an affair between them so she can get him to support her?????
    And the Prossicution never used the word JELOUSY and remember her Banning her fist and saying its "ALL ABOUT CALEEY, WHAT ABOUT ME"

    July 17, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  14. PRP

    Nothing short of capital punishment for the henious crime she committed is right. She should have come forward to confess the henious crime she committed on the witness stand.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Peace2All

      I wouldn't hold my breath concerning your notion that criminals -should- confess their crimes.

      Maybe she... they 'should' but I think that won't happen too often.


      July 17, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • sylvia saenz


      July 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |

    "Excuse me, Bartender? I'm looking for my missing daughter, have you seen her?"


    "Alright, well I'll have a Jack n' Coke then."

    July 17, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • phthia

      Very clever and well said.... I will have one too with you Casey.....my son is still at preschool....WHAT it's 11 pm?

      July 17, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  16. Diogenes3p0

    So now CNN is condoning killing of unwanted children? OK she was acquitted by a sham media trial but really does a mother lie (excessively), about am accidental death, cover it up, throw the body into a swamp.
    CNN you should be ashamed of yourself and every baby in the world should protest you

    July 17, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Peace2All


      You Said: "So now CNN is condoning killing of unwanted children? CNN you should be ashamed of yourself and every baby in the world should protest you"

      Where are you coming from on this...?


      July 17, 2011 at 11:50 am |

    "Where's Caylee? Uhhhh.... she's with me at Univers....at the nanny's hou...the nanny kidnap...she drowned in....a black guy did it."

    July 17, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Steffiee

      ...there was a guy in my room...my dad...my bro... my life has... i want an rv... i want to adopt and Irish child with an accent... my my my me me me....... I guess that RV trip for Jesus will really happen now.

      July 17, 2011 at 11:49 am |


    I'm a single white female seeking a single white male.

    Though let's be serious, if your hearts a beatin, I'll grant you a meetin.

    I have brownish hair, green eyes, and while I may be skinny,

    I still have great big... ears (and yes boys... they're real).

    My LIKES include:

    1. Partying till I drop

    2. Kids (as long as they don't interfere with LIKE # 1)

    3. Long walks (anywhere is fine, but I prefer the woods)

    4. Telling stories (For example: This one time... there was this nanny...)

    5. Imaginery friends

    6. Tattoos

    7. Tequila Sunrises

    8. Working

    My DISLIKES include:

    1. Police

    2. Babysitting

    3. Dressing modestly

    4. My parents

    5. Contraception

    6. Cleaning (my car, my internet browser's history folder, etc.)

    7. Kids (I changed my mind)

    8. The haters

    9. The media

    10. The Nancy Grace

    If you like what you see, leave me your number, and who knows,

    after I sober up, you might get lucky.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:41 am |

    Forgiveness is a razor’s edge. On one side is the acceptance of another humanity’s and capacity for error. On the other side is empowering those that manipulate and abuse other humans. Forgiveness without atonement is a game. Both to the lying person manipulating others and to people worshiping an image of themselves as forgivers. I forgive Casey for being Casey but not for what see has done. She owns that and I don’t what to live in a world where it is OK to do what see did without consequences. When forgiveness overrules justice, the unjust are the victors. When justice knows not forgiveness, the just become doubly harmed. Using biblical references to justify washing Casey’s slate clean may make you feel good but it is not any higher moral viewpoint then using biblical references to justify stoning her. It is an extremist and unnecessary viewpoint. Forgive the sinner but not the sin. Casey owns her sin and it not for me to forgive her for that.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • phthia

      Well who then "forgives" imaginary places after death? Well, hell that's easy!

      July 17, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  20. Andrew Murphy

    "But does the anger, revenge and bitterness help bring back Caylee? What positive purpose might it serve?"
    Maybe having a murderess in jail instead of walking the streets? Kind of a no-brainer, are you for real?

    July 17, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Steffiee

      Absolutely BRAVO!

      July 17, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • phthia

      Ya I would have liked to see that....JUSTICE!

      July 17, 2011 at 11:49 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.