offers apology for sins of the Church
Pope John Paul II took a brave and bold step
March 12 during a public apology and petition to God to forgive
the sins of Catholics over the ages. Speaking before thousands at
the Day of Pardon Mass in St. Peterís Basilica in the Vatican,
the Pope addressed the crowd in general, sweeping terms.
"We are asking pardon for the divisions
among Christians, for the use of violence that some have committed
in the service of truth, and for the attitudes of mistrust and
hostility assumed toward followers of other religions," said
The phrase "violence in the service of
truth" is a common term meaning the treatment of heretics
during the Inquisition, the Crusades and the forced imposition of
religion on native peoples.
This historic message hails as the distinctive
event of the new millennium for Catholics. "Several years ago
when the Pope announced plans for the observance of the 2000th
anniversary of Christianity, he asked that we take the occasion to
look at our past and pray for healing," said Cardinal Adam
Maida, the Archbishop of Detroit, Mich.
The apology was a highly anticipated public
statement that has been welcomed by many in the Catholic
community. The Rev. William L. Fichteman of the Cathedral of the
Assumption in Louisville, Ky., said, "Itís a wonderful,
gutsy thing for an elderly pope, who is considered a conservative,
to do. It Ďs not what you would expect. Itís really a
prophetic step. It gives the opportunity for others to do the
same. Each of us can find something to atone for."
William Ryan, deputy director of communications
for the U.S. Catholic Conference, said, "We are pleased about
the Popeís comments and admire them. Itís an unprecedented act
and the Pope has said for a number of years that the church should
prepare for the new millennium by acknowledging things that have
been in the past."
Catholics arenít the only ones pleased with
the Popeís message of atonement. "I was a staunch Catholic
who went to Mass and received communion every day," said
Claudette Marie Muhammad, chief of protocol for the Honorable
Minister Louis Farrakhan. "Anytime you apologize for
something is good. Atonement and reconciliation is good for the
soul. Minister Farrakhan set the pace for this back in 1995 with
Million Man March."
For some, however, the Popeís words didnít
go far enough. They were looking for the specific mention of
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the
Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, told Reuters,
"I think itís a bold and important step, but it would have
been much more significant if he had made a mention of the
"I was waiting for him to apologize for
all of the priests who molest altar boys. He left that out,"
said Bishop Imogene Stewart of Washington, D.C. "Some folks
say this is better late than never, but I remember a time when
Black folks couldnít be Catholics and now they think theyíre
better than everyone else."
Others see a divine purpose to the Popeís
well chosen words of apology, "We would have all liked for
the Pope to say something about the Middle Passage and slavery as
our Jewish brothers wanted to hear something about the Holocaust.
The fear is you will miss a group. There would have been some
group, big or small, that would have been left out that would have
said, Ďwhat about us?í " said Monsignor Ronald Dillard of
St. Augustine Church in Washington, D.C.
"Itís a good thing in the spirit of
Christianity to repent for sins and reconcile sinful ways. We must
all repent, seek forgiveness and then move in the spirit of doing
better," said Mary E. Gaines of St. Judes Catholic Church in
"My prayer is that if the largest
religious organization in the world, the Catholic church (can ask
for forgiveness) then it frees up all people of faith to say we
all got to do this," commented Father Michael Pfleger of
Chicagoís St. Sabina church.
Edward Chiffriller, Vicar General of St. Josephís
Society of the Sacred Heart, Inc., said, "It is very
appropriate that the Holy Father, the leader of our church, has
taken this opportunity to express his sorrow and request
forgiveness for Christians of the past. There is a failure of
individual Catholics to live up to what the church teaches.
"Our faith reminds us that when we do sin
and hurt other people, there is a need for reparation. Certainly
asking for forgiveness is a step in the right direction," he
The Popeís apology concludes a series of
events surrounding regrets for various sins. In 1998, the Vatican
released a document that apologized to Jews for Catholics failing
to help them during World War II. He has also offered apologies to
Africans for Catholic sins during visits to the continent.
In a recent Lenten address, Cardinal Roger
Mahoney, leader of the Los Angeles diocese, extended an olive
branch to gays and lesbians. On March 11 in Boston, Cardinal
Bernard Law apologized for slavery, the sexual abuse by priests
and many things in between.
The Pope, five cardinals and two bishops
delivered the historic confession of sins dressed in the color of
penitence, purple robes. After the prayer he grasped a large
crucifix on the altar for the special Mass, begging Godís
"We are deeply saddened by the behavior of
those who in the course of history have caused these children of
yours to suffer and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit
ourselves to genuine brotherhood," said Pope John Paul II.
The National Black Catholics Seminarians
Associationís Rev. Darren S. Mazeur said, "Itís important
that the head of the church is speaking exclusively about
apologizing and reaching out to others. You must confess your sins
and be sorry for it and have healing in regards to it.
"When you are against someone, you are
against the whole body of Christ. We should be aware that the Pope
is addressing all of us. In order to move on there must be
acknowledgment. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God.
Itís important that the Pope, a visible part of the church, who
represents Christ here on earth, continue to encourage us to
forgive from within our hearts," he concluded.
(Memorie Knox contributed to this report.)