The Art of the Apology

In my teaching days, I would sometimes ask a misbehaving pupil what he had to say for himself. If he had the temerity to say he was sorry, my somewhat cynical reply was often; “You mean you’re sorry you were caught.” Looking back, I have to say that I regret the use of such a smart, glib, cynical reply to what may have been a genuine expression of regret on the part of a young person in their formative years. What lesson was I really teaching in such an encounter?
I found myself thinking about the power and importance of apology this past week when reading about the debacle over our national broadcaster running an offensive anti-Catholic skit on New Year’s Eve. It does seem at times that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in public life. I find it difficult to imagine that they would have even considered broadcasting a piece mocking the central tenets of the Jewish or Islamic faiths.
Following representations by Church leaders and a vast number of complaints from viewers, the station issued an apology. I read the text of the apology carefully and to be honest, I’m not sure it meets the criteria for a genuine apology, being somewhat conditional in its nature. The apology begins by stating; “that matters which can cause offence naturally differ from person to person, within comedy and satire in particular.” They then go on to apologize only “to those who were offended.” At the time of writing, the offensive piece continues to be posted on the station’s social media platforms. One would imagine that any apology would be accompanied by a desire to put right the wrong that had been done.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not speaking for God – He has little need of my help, not with his unlimited access to fire, brimstone and bolts of lightning. My concern is for those faithful people who hold their faith dear and are deeply hurt when it is mocked, ridiculed or gratuitously offended. They also largely belong to a section of our society that does not number them among the media influencers, considered so important today. They deserve better.
Before it’s pointed out, I’m aware that the Church, as an institution, does not have a great track record when it comes to issuing fulsome apologies. (Just ask Galileo who only had to wait 359 years for his apology from the Pope). As the theologian, Bernard Lonergan, once pointed out; the church often arrives on the scene a little breathless and a little late. Of late however Pope Francis has reminded us that the three most important phrases we can use in life are; Please, Thank you and Sorry! For me, to be sorry means; to regret what has happened, to try and right the wrong that was done and to commit to act in a way that ensures that it won’t happen again.
Perhaps you remember the cartoon strip, Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is a little boy with an overactive imagination and a stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who comes to life as his imaginary friend. In one cartoon strip, Calvin turns to his friend Hobbes and says, “I feel bad I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I’m sorry I did that.” Hobbes replies, “Maybe you should apologize to her.” Calvin thinks about it for a moment and then responds, “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.” It does seem to me as if our national broadcaster has found the less obvious solution that eluded Calvin.
In his book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, draws a stark picture of hell. Hell is like a great, vast city, Lewis says, a city inhabited only at its outer edges, with rows and rows of empty houses in the middle. These houses in the middle are empty because everyone who once lived there has quarrelled with the neighbours and moved. Then, they quarrelled with the new neighbours and moved again, leaving the streets and the houses of their old neighbourhoods empty and barren.
That, Lewis says, is how hell has gotten so large. It is empty at its centre and inhabited only at the outer edges, because everyone chose distance instead of honest confrontation when it came to dealing with their relationships.
That’s all well and good, I suppose, if you don’t mind living in hell. Are we really so willing to give up our relationships with others – relationships that have come about and been forged by our desire to follow Jesus? Nowhere, and I do mean nowhere, in the New Testament gospels will you find Jesus saying that the first order of things is always to be right. But he does have a great deal to say about forgiveness, about relationship, about reconciliation, about service and humility and vulnerability.

Fr. Brendan Quinlivan is based in Tulla and is Vicar Forane for the Ceantar na Lochanna Parishes in East Clare
Text of Clare Champion Article 7th of January, 2021

Apology issued by RTÉ on Thursday 7th of January 2021
A sketch about God on the RTÉ New Year’s Eve Countdown Show, intended as satire, did not comply with RTÉ’s own standards and broader regulations, the organisation said today.

In a statement, RTÉ said its Editorial Standards Board found that the sketch did not comply with several provisions.

These included Section 39 (1) (d) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 and the BAI Code of Programme Standards in relation to material that causes “undue offence”.

It also did not comply with provision of Principle 5 in the above Code (Respect for Persons and Groups in Society) regarding “due respect” for religious beliefs.

The RTÉ Editorial Standards Board also found the sketch was not in compliance with the provision in the RTÉ Journalism & Content Guidelines regarding sensitivity to people’s religious beliefs.

After consideration of the RTÉ Editorial Standards Board’s findings, RTÉ decided it will make a voluntary disclosure of non-compliance to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and engage with the authority in this process.

It will also request the Editorial Standards Board to review the processes involved in the broadcast and report on it.

RTÉ has removed this sketch from the RTÉ Player.

The organisation said it will also carry a public statement and apology, with due prominence, acknowledging that the sketch did not meet the standards expected of the national broadcaster.

In a statement, RTÉ said it was its view that satire “is an important part of the offering to our audience”.

It added: “However, satire, no more than any other aspect of our output, must adhere to our own standards and the standards set out in the Broadcasting Act 2009 and the BAI Codes.”

RTÉ Director General Dee Forbes said: “We accept the findings of the Editorial Standards Board that this sketch was not compliant with our own guidelines or with our obligations under the relevant codes.

“On behalf of RTÉ, I fully apologise for that. We will now review the processes involved and engage constructively with the BAI.”