A Roman Catholic apology for the past sins of its members
the document, verbal apology
The past decade has seen many statements of repentance by religious groups:
||The Southern Baptist Convention repented of their past
support for slavery and racial segregation. The asked African-Americans
for forgiveness of the denomination's past actions and for any
residual racism left today.
||The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America apologized for the
viciously anti-Jewish statements made by Martin Luther, the main leader of the
||The United Methodist Church apologized for the brutality of a
lay Methodist preacher who led a massacre of Natives during the Civil
||The Roman Catholic Church issued a document "We Remember:
A Reflection on the Shoah"
in 1998-MAR-16. 1 It recognized the relative inactivity and silence of many
Roman Catholics during the Nazi Holocaust.
However, the new apology at the start of Lent in the year 2000 by
Pope John Paul II received much
greater attention worldwide.
The Catholic apologies of 1998 and 2000 are different from those of
||Apologies are made on behalf of some unidentified "sons and
daughters" of the church, but not on behalf of the church itself.
||The apologies are vaguely worded so that it is sometimes difficult
to identify which past atrocity is being referred to -- whether it be genocide
against the Cathars, burning "Witches" and other heretics at the stake,
castrating boy singers so that they would preserve their soprano voice into
||It does not include any mention of present behavior that is sinful
||It does not describe any plan to prevent the recurrence in the
future of past crimes against humanity.
The Church teaches that, as an institution, it is pure and without fault. It
was created by Christ and is maintained by God
to be free of
error, in the past, present, and future. It is only individual
church members and leaders who are capable of sin.
Pope John Paul II's apology was opposed by many leaders of the Vatican curia. Some
church leaders felt that a confession of past errors might cause many
Roman Catholics to wonder whether the church is currently engaged in sinful behavior
that will require some future pope to apologize for sins committed by
the church leadership today. Most often, policies
that are directly or indirectly linked to human sexuality are mentioned,
including the church's:
||Ban on divorce,
||Ban on contraception,
||Ban on in-vitro fertilization, and
||Treatment of homosexual orientation as an objectively disordered
However, John Paul believed that repentance will transform the church and
enable it to lead the world into a "new springtime of
Christianity." He was able to overrule the Vatican Curia.
Release of the apology document:
On 2000-MAR-1, in Paris, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church
held a press conference which, according to Reuters, "outlined a framework for seeking
forgiveness for past errors without necessarily admitting responsibility
for them." 2 The French translation of a new
church document: "Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of
the Past" was released. It had been prepared over a three year interval
by a papal commission, the
International Theological Commission, under the auspices of
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. It contains "some 90 pages, divided
into 6 chapters." 3 The document was published in time for the
church's ''Request for Forgiveness'' theme day on 2000-MAR-12. This
was synchronized with the first Sunday in Lent, a traditional time of
penitence. This is one
of many special observances associated with the Church's millennium
celebration in the Jubilee year, 2000.
"Memory and Reconciliation" acknowledges that
individuals within the Church have committed serious errors in the past.
Father Jean-Louis Brugues, one of the report's authors stated:
have mentioned a few errors, but we could have had a very long list, too
long a list. I fear the list will never be finished. The Christians of today are not responsible for the
errors of the 19th or 16th century. We are not responsible for errors we
did not commit...We have had to find a way to liberate and purify memory
without talking about responsibility.''
The Holy See Press Office held a press conference on 2000-MAR-7 in the
formally release the document to the public. It was originally written in Latin.
available in English, French and Spanish. 4
Pope John Paul II's verbal apology
Bishop Piero Marini, the official in charge of papal ceremonies,
described a series of apologies which were to be made from Roman Catholic
pulpits around the world
during the Day of Pardon mass, Sunday, 2000-MAR-12. He explained that:
"The reference to errors and sins in a liturgy must
be frank and capable of specifying guilt; yet given the number of sins
committed in the course of 20 centuries, it must be necessarily be rather
summary. [sic]" 5
The Pope delivered a homily during the in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
He included an apology for wrong done to "women,
[Roma], other Christians, and Catholics." 6,7
Some excerpts from Pope John Paul II's speech are:
||Referring to the church's relationship to Jews, the pope said:
"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."
"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 attitudes of mistrust and
hostility assumed towards followers of other religions."
According to the Toronto Star:
"Though broadly worded, the
petitions made reference to the historic mistreatment of women 'who
are too often humiliated and marginalized;' to 'contempt for [other]
and religious traditions;' and to hatred for society's weakest
The following information sources were used to prepare the above report in
the year 2000, and update it since. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"The Catholic Church and the Holocaust," First Things magazine, at:
Crispian Balmer, "Catholic Church establishes forgiveness
framework," Reuters, 2000-MAR-1. See:
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/ This appears to be offline.
"Publication of document on church's past faults," EWTN
News, at: http://www.ewtn.com/
"Memory and reconciliation: The church and faults of the past," EWTN News at:
This was a temporary listing
- V.L. Simpson, "Pope plans historic apology for sins of Catholic
Church," Associated Press, 2000-MAR-7.
- Steve Kloen, "Pope repents, seeks forgiveness for social sins
through the ages," The Toronto Star, 2000-MAR-13.
John Paul II et al., Text of the "Universal prayer: Confession of
sins and asking for forgiveness," 2000-MAR-12, is at: http://www.ewtn.com/
Copyright © 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAR-8
Latest update: 2007-FEB-07
Author: B.A. Robinson