Remembering and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of 9/11

By: Gerard J. McGlone

September 8, 2021

Religion, Peace, and World Affairs: Reflections on the Legacy of September 11

Remembering, reconciliation, and healing are critical features of most faith traditions. Trauma, both personal and collective, often distorts, paralyzes, and hampers efforts at such healing and reconciliation. I remember, as a child, the exact time and day when President Kennedy was assassinated. I saw my first-grade teacher, a nun, weeping publicly. I was so frightened and confused, and, as with most children, I assumed a naïve responsibility for her trauma and tears. I had the same experience on September 11, 2001. The personal and collective shock and the fear were just as earth shattering. Like many, my first immature response was to seek revenge. As one trained in clinical psychology, the healing of traumatic memories and the responsibility to prevent trauma has been and is the focus of my professional work prior to and since 9/11. It is also the focus of my work at the Berkley Center.

As one trained in clinical psychology, the healing of traumatic memories and the responsibility to prevent trauma has been and is the focus of my professional work prior to and since 9/11.

2001 was a year of trauma. Earlier in 2001, I had defended my dissertation in San Diego. My dissertation was entitled Sexually Offending and Non-Offending Roman Catholic Priests: Characterization and Analysis. The research highlighted that those perpetrators of violence often mirror personal, familial, group, and collective stories of unresolved trauma. Little did I know at the time that a series of stories in the Boston Globe in the “Spotlight” series, just four months later, would also change my life and the realities of most faith traditions. I was in San Diego again on 9/11, awakened by my dissertation chair and his wife. The traumas blend together in my memory.

Looking back, there is little question that in the past 20 years similar distorted and immature beliefs about religion, faith, and the misuse of individual, organizational, and even national power have emerged as the central challenges to the work of accountability, justice, healing, peacebuilding, and reconciliation. In the 20 years since 9/11, we have awakened to the fact that sexual abuse exists in most organizations and faith traditions throughout the world. Much progress has been made with zero-tolerance policies and significant new programming. However, cultural change and transformation has been still more difficult. Distorted beliefs about power, women, children, and the vulnerable still dominate. There is significant unresolved personal and collective trauma.

In the 20 years since 9/11, we have awakened to the fact that sexual abuse exists in most organizations and faith traditions throughout the world.

The challenge for the next 20 years is to remember, heal, and reimagine. Restorative justice is one such model of remembering, healing, and reconciling that is worthy to consider. At the core of this approach, however, is the need for humility, emotional maturity, and accountability in both the perpetrators and the perpetrating community to address their roles. There is the additional need to listen, remember, and honor the horrific stories that survivors tell, whether it is the violence of personal abuse, or the violence extreme elements can inflict on a society. In the fall of Kabul also, we witness the effects of distorted and immature notions of revenge and power that leads to more violence. And yet again, the most vulnerable, notably women and children, are forgotten and silenced.

Yes, it is time to remember!

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