Admitting the wrongs of the Catholic Church

Pope's apology: Helping us all get along in the close quarters of the new millennium.

March 15, 2000

WE cannot not recognize the betrayals of the Gospel committed by some of our brothers, especially during the second millennium. We ask forgiveness for the divisions between Christians, for the use of violence that some have resorted to in the service of truth and for the acts of dissidence and of hostility sometimes taken towards followers of other religions."

These breathtaking words in Pope John Paul II's homily in Saint Peter's Basilica, Sunday, frame the Catholic Church's approach to ecumenism in the third millennium. It is a small world getting smaller, and he is pulling the church into it.

If not endorsing the Protestant Reformation, he concedes it had a point.

If not rolling back the Inquisition, he is agreeing with condemnation of much of it.

The stern traditionalist on faith and morals within his church continues to understand its need for mutual tolerance with those outside. The outreach follows his visit to Egypt and precedes that to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The call for "purification of memory" resonates with others. Even with the responses of seven bishops referring to the people of Israel, to indigenous peoples and to women, the pope is broadly inclusive without specificity. It's as though those with grievances are invited to fill in the blanks.

The pope's apology and plea for forgiveness for sins of the church excites comment from those who felt he left some out, and others who consider no apology in order. The discussion will not soon end.

But Pope John Paul, while conceding not an inch in matters where some of the faithful seek change, is opening dialogue. The frail, 79-year-old pontiff is laying the groundwork for greater Christian unity and for closer contact with Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others.

When he talks about the past, the pope is looking forward, knowing all the world's peoples will live in ever closer proximity. The "purification of memory" he seeks is because the past is prologue. It is humanity's future and the church's future he has in mind.

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