Pope makes apology for past persecutions

Erin Ghere

Pope John Paul II made an unprecedented move Sunday when he asked forgiveness for 2,000 years of sins committed by the Roman Catholic Church.
University area religious leaders applauded the pope’s repentance, which highlighted sins against Jews, other Christian faiths, women, impoverished people and different ethnic and racial groups.
“We ask forgiveness for the divisions that came between Christians, for the use of violence that some used in the service of truth,” the pope said during Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, “and for the attitudes of diffidence and hostility assumed before the followers of other religions.”
Although the church has offered repentance before, it has never been done in such a sweeping plea for divine forgiveness.
Although not mentioned by name, the apology alluded to persecutions under the Inquisition, violence during the Crusades, forced evangelization and the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust.
It was “a very important step,” said Amy Olson, director of Hillel, the Jewish Student Center at the University.
Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, said he was disappointed the pope did not make specific reference to the Holocaust or the silence of many Catholics, including then Pope Pius XII, during the extermination of Jews.
Olson said it would have been good if the Pope had gone further in his apology, but it was still an “important, symbolic gesture.”
“It was not a small thing that he made that apology,” Olson said.
“(The pope) did acknowledge that we … didn’t do all we could” during the Holocaust, said Father Donald Andrie, associate pastor and youth minister of St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center.
Andrie said the pope’s apology covered the last 2,000 years, not just the last 50 years, and the Holocaust was not the only issue.
He said it was “courageous in many ways” for the pope to recognize that people in the church make mistakes and even intentionally commit evil acts.
The pope’s apology was “outstanding witness to the strength of the Catholic Church,” said Janet Wheelock, a priest at the University Episcopal Church. It was also “long, long overdue,” she said.
The Episcopal church’s roots lead back to Henry VIII and Anglicanism in England, who left the Roman Catholic Church when it refused to acknowledge his divorce. Anglicans were persecuted by Catholics during the Reformation, and many nonbelievers were beheaded by Mary, Queen of Scots.
It is for parts of this past that the pope asked forgiveness. He also forgave other religions that have persecuted Catholics.
Both Olson and Andie agreed the church must confess its sins before it can move forward into the new millennium, a theme toward which the Catholic Church has been striving.
Andie said it is “exciting” for the church, because they must look back to move forward.
“(The apology) is really going to make a difference in the global attitudes toward the Catholic Church” by Catholics and non-Catholics, Wheelock added.
— The Washington Post contributed to this report.
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