March 2003

Elaine Kennedy is part of the Edges Team.

We are always more important to God than the most evil thing we have done.

Myra Hindley died recently. Feelings are mixed; media pronouncements are, for the greater part, emotionally manipulative and devoid of all compassion. Compassion has to be one of the hardest of emotions to cope with and live up to as it is asked of us repeatedly in the gospels. Our human elements cry out in revulsion, anguish, torment, our spiritual self urges us to listen to the teachings of Christ. Our attempts at being nonjudgemental, forgiving and compassionate are feeble. Self-righteousness is the usual comfortable refuge from our inability to cope with what society dictates, as opposed to what is asked of us by the Lord.

Years ago, I taught a pupil whose father was a police detective. She told me once, that he had attended a conference along with other long-serving police officers who had seen it all before, or so they thought. The topic involved looking at the murder cases of Myra Hindley and Ian Bradey. The facts and photographs were so horrendous that none of them could stomach it to the end. She then gave me a couple of details she had heard from her father. I have wished sincerely, time and again, that she hadn’t done that. Those facts have haunted me over the years and I have never been able to repeat them to a soul, and I never will divulge them. I can’t; it just sticks in my throat. I admit that my opinion has been strongly coloured by these revelations as to whether Myra Hindley should ever be released, or not. Personally, I feel that anyone capable of such acts cannot possibly be certain of never re-offending in the same way. However hard they try, and I’m quite certain Myra Hindley tried her best to change both mentally and spiritually; there must be an element over which they cannot guarantee control – I’m convinced she knew that.

But! We are always more important to God than the most evil thing we have ever done. We cannot practise true compassion if we haven’t understood that. Our understanding comes with the clear realisation that we don’t understand! Accepting without understanding: that is our faith – condemning to Hell is not our business! Anyway we are not able to define the soul – who says soul and body are necessarily, and always, a self-contained unit incapable of functioning independently from each other? My body suffers from slowly degenerating disease, yet my soul feels healthier at this moment than it ever has before! I can be in terrible pain and completely peaceful simultaneously.

My work here at St. Anne’s House, has brought me in contact with many people who have done some awful things, yet they have a depth to them which is quite beautiful. They radiate, sometimes, that indefinable quality, which is totally separate from that part of them which is blatantly ugly. We can all suffer a missing chink in our bodies, and therefore minds, which result in some visible form or another; but the soul? The soul is something else altogether.

I am not making excuses here for all crime committed - not at all. We do have free will to choose certain paths. However, there are crimes, atrocities committed which are way beyond the criminal norm – I can best explain what I mean by this: we read of numerous crimes which offend us, but deep down we know that were our circumstances different, we would, in theory, be capable of the same. Whereas there are those acts committed which we know in our heart of hearts that we could never ever be a party to. Many crimes make us feel "there but for the grace of God…" and then these occasional crimes where we know we would rather die than commit. Those people’s minds are out of kilter with the rest of us and we have a hard time taking that in.

When I read titles in popular newspapers such as "She is now rotting in Hell," (the same about Hitler a while back) my whole being revolts. We have no right to say anything of the sort, not just because only God decides, but precisely because only He actually knows. We have no knowledge beyond our limited sphere. Only God can discern what is to us the indefinable component of an individual’s soul. We don’t know what makes someone carry out gross violations of acceptable normality. As to judgement and retribution, we are all liable to that regardless of the degree of our failings. How interesting, though, that in our secular society, a tabloid newspaper is giving Hell a plug! Is God in the equation of a Tabloid Hell?!!

Myra Hindley became a catholic over the years in prison. She died having received the sacrament of the sick. If we imply that in that, was some cunning motive on her part, as I heard someone doing on the television, we mock the very essence of the faith we profess to follow. Each one of us has the right to turn to God for compassion and forgiveness – Neither should our faith be based on using people we chose to denigrate as a yardstick of how well we are doing.

Being a frail and flawed human being, I have often struggled with the case of Myra Hindley. I get into a tangled mess of emotions, which I try to resolve with prayer. The families of the murdered children found themselves plunged into a dark, chaotic mess so tangled that very little can heal them other than the love of people who have made their dreadful journey of life slightly more bearable. But they and Myra Hindley are all part of the immensity of the wholeness that is God. In that, is part of our accepting without understanding. My Grandfather used to say often: "Never judge because you simply don’t know," and we don’t know. One day we will all know – Myra Hindley now knows.

"If we could read the history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostilities." - Longfellow.

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