The public act of repentance, solemnly woven into the liturgy of Sunday Mass inside St. Peter's Basilica, was an unprecedented moment in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, one that the ailing year-old pope pushed forward over the doubts of even many of his own cardinals and bishops.
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He has said repeatedly that the new evangelization he is calling for in the third millennium can take place only after what he has described as a church-wide ''purification of memory. To underline the apology's religious significance, seven cardinals and bishops stood before the pope and cited some of the key Catholic lapses, past and present, including religious intolerance and injustice toward Jews, women, indigenous peoples, immigrants, the poor and the unborn.
The pope also mentioned the persecution of Catholics by other faiths.
At the beginning of his pontificate, John Paul's boldest gestures were on the political front, confronting Communism in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Latin America and also challenging human rights violations and the economic injustices of capitalism. But the apology, issued in the twilight of his papacy, is theologically more daring. His effort to cleanse his church's conscience for the new millennium has already drawn criticism, but it is almost certain to mark his legacy deeply.
Lorenzo Albacete, who teaches theology at St.
Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers. The pope, broadening a process of reconciliation that began in the 's during the Second Vatican Council, has issued apologies before, notably regretting in a document the failure of many Catholics to help Jews during the Holocaust.
That document, ''We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,'' disappointed many leading Jewish groups, which complained that the pope did not go far enough in apologizing for the silence of church leaders, including the wartime pope, Pius XII. Today, in the prayer dedicated to ''confession of sins against the people of Israel,'' John Paul did not mention the church's behavior during the Holocaust, just as he did not elaborate on other sins of the church.
Forgiving the Unrepentant | Focus on the Family
He 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 commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called today's apology a ''bold and important step forward,'' but added that he was disappointed that the pope had not mentioned the Holocaust explicitly.
The pope also acknowledged that church followers had ''violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions. The need for Catholics to examine their collective conscience is something that this pope has been thinking about for years, and he laid out his rationale for it in a apostolic letter called ''The Coming of the Third Millennium.
The result was a dense page treatise by the International Theological Commission, which, with Vatican oversight, ground out the theological precedents and also the limits to the apology. View all New York Times newsletters. Written by a committee and released earlier this month, the document addresses concerns that the apology will be misunderstood or misused by those ''hostile to the church.
The document explains that the church is holy, but is stained by the sins of its children, and requires ''constant purification. Thomas Reeves, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, commented. The document also cautions against judging past generations by today's moral or religious standards, and says today's believers cannot be held responsible for sins committed by Catholics hundreds of years ago.
It nevertheless concedes that there is ''an objective collective responsibility'' for past errors that modern Catholics should acknowledge and repent. Respect begins to return when we take responsibility for our actions. Giving and receiving an apology is key to fulfilling the goal of peace and mutual upbuilding. We can say:. I deeply regret the pain this has caused you. I apologize for what I have done and how it caused so much difficulty.
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I know my wrongdoing has been hurtful to you and I am so sorry. Warning: There are times when your apology might be met with bitterness, distrust or disdain. If someone hurts us, apologizes and then turns right around and does the same thing again, we know their apology was fake. It means a turning from wrong to do right. For example, if a spouse has been unfaithful, they need to plan steps to insure the behavior will not occur again. Steps such as:. After the four steps above, we have established a basis on which to request the favor of an expression of forgiveness. The value of asking and receiving forgiveness is the potential of a restored relationship.
But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. Bowing seven times, in that culture and circumstance, was a wonderful way to apologize. And Esau accepted his apology.
In contemporary culture, we might say:. As Christians, we are commanded to forgive. However, we cannot force anyone to forgive us. Sometimes our victims are not ready to express forgiveness even though it would be the healthiest thing for them to do. Wounds might be too deep, more proof of remorse might be needed, and more evidence of change might need to be given.
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Thus, we are delighted when our forgiveness is accepted, but we accept whatever response is given. Forgiveness cannot be demanded. If the offended is unable to give or express forgiveness, give them more time and do more restorative work to rebuild the relationship—such as in the next step. Restitution is a biblical concept seen both in the Old and New Testaments. It means the return of something to its rightful owner, and recompense for injury or loss.
In Luke 19, when the tax collector Zacchaeus began to follow Jesus, we read:. In a similar way, we can demonstrate true remorse by making amends as best we can.