'It may be Holy Week, but I still can't forgive...'

The priest who lost her daughter in the July bombings speaks about her shaken faith
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The Independent Online

The woman priest whose daughter was killed in the London suicide bombings last July has revealed that the week leading up to Easter - the time for reconciliation and forgiveness in the Christian calendar - will leave her struggling harder than ever to maintain her faith.

"It's beyond my human capacity to deal with," says Julie Nicholson. "What is there in Scripture that says a mother should forgive?"

Mrs Nicholson stood down as priest of St Aidan with St George in Bristol last month. The murder of her daughter Jenny, a talented 24-year-old musician, had left her unable to preach forgiveness.

Yesterday she revealed for the first time the full extent of the doubt at the heart of her belief in God, and the near impossible demand of her faith that she should forgive Jenny's killers.

Speaking to the Roman Catholic weeklyThe Tablet, Mrs Nicholson, 52, says that the approach of Easter has only highlighted her personal crisis of faith.

"Easter," she says, "is supposed to be the final proof that love is stronger than death. But how much comfort is that for parents who have to stand, like me, at the foot of the Cross?"

Since stepping down as a priest, Mrs Nicholson - who, despite her misgivings over forgiveness, remains a committed Christian - has been working with children in Bristol, directing a community youth group performance of C S Lewis's The Magician's Nephew.

"I don't backtrack on what I said, because I don't forgive and I don't feel that's wrong. It's not for me to forgive," she explains. "If Jenny were here she could, but as her mother I don't think it's my privilege.

"I could give forgiveness for the pain caused to me, but for that pain alone. But that's all. I'm not at that point and don't know if I ever will be. I have laid forgiveness to one side and it's for God at the moment. It's beyond my human capacity to deal with. And I don't feel that's outrageous, unbelievable or even un-Christian."

Speaking about her feelings immediately after the Circle Line suicide attack by Mohammed Sidique Khan that killed Jenny, Mrs Nicholson - who has two other children, Tom, 16, and Lizzie, 22 - is frank about her instincts as a mother. During the identification of Jenny's body, she says she "wanted to hold my child to me. And it was absolutely vital that I should, at the earliest opportunity, go and anoint her body. The symbol of the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit reflected the intimacy of mother and child, of a loving human touch."

Soon after this, she says, "I stopped responding to the priestly side of my nature and became pure mother. At times I didn't want to be a priest, I wanted to grieve as a mother without any of the baggage of a priest. What is there in Scripture that says a mother should forgive?"

There are signs that Mrs Nicholson's faith, though resolute, has undergone a subtle but profound change since the events of last July, with a closer focus on the significance of Mary - as a mother. "If the image of Mary through the Passion is pure mother," she says, "the letting go, the waiting, the caring [for] the body when restored, the anointing... There is no huge expectation to do more. I find comfort in that."

Mrs Nicholson believes that Jenny's murder should provoke reflection on what forgiveness is. "We need to go public on this, to consider the weight of the language... what do we really mean by faith and forgiveness? I think the world should be challenged to consider this, as I have been."

Asked if she could imagine a time when - in common with other parents she had met recently whose children who had died in traumatic circumstances - she could speak with true conviction about forgiveness, Mrs Nicholson remained extremely sceptical.

"If Archbishop Rowan Williams and the head of the Muslim Council of Britain came to me and said: 'Stand up and say, "I forgive Mohammed Sidique Khan for taking my daughter's life", then all terrorist activity in the world will stop,' I would do it. But in my heart I know I wouldn't have forgiven."

'Every Parent's Nightmare', a documentary in which Julie Nicholson meets other parents who have lost children, is broadcast tomorrow on BBC 1, 11.15pm