Was the Pope wrong to apologize?


In Tertio Mellennia Adveniente, Pope John Paul II wrote:

Yet the consideration of mitigating factors does not exonerate the Church from the obligation to express profound regret for the weaknesses of so many of her sons and daughters who sullied her face, preventing her from fully mirroring the image of her crucified Lord, the supreme witness of patient love and of humble meekness. From these painful moments of the past a lesson can be drawn for the future, leading all Christians to adhere fully to the sublime principle stated by the Council: “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it wins over the mind with both gentleness and power”.(19)

There were some Catholics who considered the Pope’s apology a mistake, reasoning that anti-Catholics would simply use the his words to further their own anti-Catholic agenda.

I came across the following website, whose author takes that very position:

Let me note that this particular apology of John Paul II coincided with the release of the Symposium Report, a large 783-page volume assessing the Inquisition based on up-to-now inaccessible documents from the Vatican archives. The findings of the team of researchers far from justify a papal apology. The opposite is true. They affirm the conclusions of recent academic studies that show the torture chambers, witch-burning, and vindictive power-crazed churchmen were nonexistent, part of the “black legend” invented by the Protestants, emphasized by partisans of the French Revolution, and broadly spread throughout Europe and the United States up to our times [see my tape The Myth of the Holy Inquisition].

It isn’t really possible to either speak about or ask forgiveness in general for the Inquisition, Cardinal George Cottier, a member of the Symposium, pointed out. The Inquisition per se did not exist, he noted, so how can you ask forgiveness for an image spread by public opinion, which is part of a myth and does not correspond to reality? (Zenit, June 15, 2004)


So, did John Paul II’s encyclical just give further ammunition to anti-Catholics?


Remember he didn’t apologize for anything specifically. It sounds easily interpretable as saying Catholics who simply don’t live up to God’s expectations and morals as opposed to the Inquisition and Crusades.


Hello Jim

I am not sure if there is futher explaination I do plan to find out though. I just wanted to throw in my two cents, I personally believe that the Pope was right to apologize for the actions or lack of actions of some members of the church and/or the christain communitty. Like any good parent would, the Head or the Father would always or should always first apoligize for their childs ill behaviors. And like most parents, the church should do this without wondering what confessing there childs faults would sound like in the ears of those who like to talk. The way I see it is that the church will always be talked about and looked down on. I think it always help to remember that the gates of hell well always try to brake down on upon us but as long as we stay true to the Church they will never prevail.:slight_smile:


People who hate the Church are going to find any stick with which to beat it. If the pope had come out and explained that the Church itself is not responsible for the actions of some misguided members (which it isn’t), they would howl over that too. It’s the old “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” scenario, I’m afraid.


It’s never wrong to apologize.



The Pope was right on to apologize. He responded with love. The anti-Catholics respond with hate. Who do you think wins in the end?


Apology is a humble thing to do. It is never wrong to ask for apology even the Pope.

The Pope however with regards to teachings on faith and morals is seems impossible to ask for apology for when he speak on faith and morals he is infallible.


He didn’t, strictly speaking, apologize.

What he did was to “express profound regret for the weaknesses” of sinful human members of the Church, especially for the big things in our history, but even for all the individual things that keep us from truly mirroring Christ.

He cannot apologize for “the Church”. The Church is Holy. The Church is Sinless. The Church is the Bride of Christ, His Mystical Body.

But even as Christ “became sin”, taking sin onto himself while remaining personally fully innocent…so too does the sinless Church suffer with having cancerous sinful cells, as it were, for the sake of those same sinners.

They have done terrible things. Even in her name. But she is perfect, the divinely instituted communion of God and Man.

The Pope simply prayed to God to have mercy on all those sons and daughters of hers who sinned gravely against humanity, and those who assisted them in their sin through encouragement and omission. He also asked all those, especially the descendants of groups hurt, to likewise join the Church in forgiving those who sinned and to pray to God to forgive them and all of us.


Well, as Verbum said, it is never wrong to apologize. As long as people know what you are apologizing for.

The problem is this:

Many people, from the time they were old enough to hear and understand, have read and been taught that the Catholic Church was responsible for untold millions of deaths through hundreds or thousands of years, unspeakable tortures and crimes against humanity. They have accepted black legends as historical fact, and gross exaggerations as simple history.

Then they hear that the Pope has apologized. (No one reads the actual encyclical, of course.) They conclude that obviously all that they have heard is true, since the Pope has now apologized for it.

But it doesn’t help. It is as though the Third Reich had survived and prospered, and the successor to Hitler has now made a statement that, well, we regret some past actions such as the holocaust, which was a misunderstanding; we no longer burn non-Aryans. It was just a product of the times. People would react by saying, OK, but only your practice has changed, not your policy, which is still fully Nazi in nature.

So, unless one has an understanding of the true facts of history, an apology does nothing to change anyone’s understanding or to correct historical misinformation.


I understand your misgivings, Jim, but the fact that some people will misinterpret the truth or a correct action does not relieve us of our obligation to live the truth and do the next right thing.

I believe, and this is just the opinion of an obedient daughter of the Holy Mother Church, that apologizing as an institution for wrongs done by members in Her name is not only right it is honorable. I think JPII did the right and honorable thing, even though there will be those who use the words of our Holy Father against us.

It’s not easy to be Catholic - but then again, if it was then everyone would be!


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