Future actions should reflect pope’s apologies

Last weekend, the aging pontiff of the Catholic Church did what his 262 predecessors had never done before. Pope John Paul II, during the Day of Pardon Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, apologized for the horrors the church had visited upon people over the past two millenniums. Five cardinals and two bishops representing the church confessed to the pope, who dressed in purple vestments representing forgiveness, and gave a response. This is an unprecedented move in the history of the church, following the pope’s desire to cleanse and reinvigorate the church as it moves into the future. This apology is long overdue, and the only way the pope and church can show their commitment to it is to make sure that such horrible actions are not occurring in the present and never will occur again in the future.
During the Mass, no groups of people or historical events were specifically mentioned; rather, seven general categories of forgiveness were stated. They included general sins: sins in the service of the truth, against the Jews, against Christian unity, against the dignity of women and minorities, against respect for love, peace and cultures and against human rights. The pope also mentioned in his homily forgiveness for those who harmed the church in the past. Unfortunately, however, the Holocaust was never referred to, and gays were not specifically mentioned.
The pope commissioned a committee to study the theological implications of the apology. The committee released a treatise clarifying that the apology was not an admission of the church’s guilt, but instead an apology for the human sins of its followers. The treatise also stated that past generations of Catholics should not be judged by today’s religious standards, and that the believers of today cannot be held responsible for the church’s past actions. Furthermore, a spokesman for the pope made it clear that he was seeking an actual pardon from God, not the groups he was apologizing to.
Fortunately, the pope was not the only one apologizing this Lenten weekend, as cardinals across America were asking for atonement of sins. In Los Angeles, apologies were extended to gays and those of other faiths. In Boston, the sexual misconduct of parish priests, as well as racism and anti-Semitism of local Catholics was the focus of forgiveness. Many Catholics in America seemed to consider the apologies a good first step in the path of forgiveness and healing.
Since 1994, when the pope released “The Coming of the Third Millennium,” he has shown his interest in the church, reflecting on the sins and errors it has committed. This apology is the culmination of over a decade of thought on behalf of the Vatican and the pope, who has charted a new course for the church. The path to full communion with other Christian denominations seems just a bit closer, and the bridges to other faiths seem just a bit more stable. But this apology cannot be just words. For the pope and the church to prove that they truly take this apology to heart, it must be shown through their actions. Every Catholic must remain vigilant in their lives, making sure that the church is no longer performing actions — subtle or blatant — for which pope has apologized. To do so would be to honor the pope’s apology, as well as those who were victims of the church in the past.