WEB POSTED 3-23-2000

Pope 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 Pope.

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 certain groups.

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 Holocaust."

"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 Montgomery, Ala.

"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 added.

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 forgiveness.

"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.)


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