Pope says sorry for sins against Jews and women


In one of the most significant moments of this Holy Year, Pope John Paul II yesterday asked for God's forgiveness for the Catholic Church's past errors and failings, including past sins against Jews, heretics, women and native peoples.

Presiding over a special 2 1/2 hour service in St Peter's Basilica marking the Day of Forgiveness on the first Sunday of Lent, the Pope said: "We ask forgiveness for the divisions created between Christians, for the use of violence by some of those Christians in the service of truth, for the attitudes of diffidence and hostility assumed towards followers of other religions . . . Even more, we acknowledge our responsibilities as Christians for the evils of today." The Pope continued: "Faced with atheism, with religious indifference, with secularism, with moral relativism, with violations of the right to life, with the disregard for the poverty of many countries in the world, we cannot but ask ourselves what have been our responsibilities . . ."

"For the responsibility that each and every one of us, with our behaviour, has had in these wrongs, thus defiling the face of the church, we humbly ask forgiveness . . . while at the same time, even as we confess our faults, we forgive the faults of others against us: in the course of history, on innumerable occasions, Christians have suffered persecution, repression and acts of oppression because of their faith," he added.

The Pope (79) not only presided over the lengthy Vatican service but also repeated his message of forgiveness and reconciliation when addressing a packed St Peter's Square during his weekly Angelus, just minutes after the end of the eucharistic celebration in the basilica.

He had begun yesterday morning's service by pausing in front of Michelangelo's Pieta close to the entrance to the basilica in a moment of reflection, before climbing aboard a mobile platform he now uses for the long transit to the high altar.

A significant moment in yesterday's service came when senior Curia figures offered prayers that briefly and generically outlined some of the past failings of the church and of Christians in relation to events such as the Crusades, the Inquisition and the treatment of women, native peoples and Jews.

Cardinal Bernard Gantin, dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Vatican's Jubilee Year Committee and Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, were among those to offer prayers, to all of which the Pope offered a response.

Responding to a prayer decrying anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds, the Pope committed the church to working towards "an authentic brotherhood with the people of the covenant". Addressing the crowd in St Peter's Square minutes after the service, the Pope explained that his call for forgiveness did not imply an act of judgment on his Christian predecessors.

"Only God and God alone can sit in judgment, for only he can see into our hearts and minds", he added. "The service held today is a sincere admission of the errors committed by the children of the church both in the recent and the faraway past.

"It is a humble supplication for the forgiveness of God. As we seek forgiveness, we also forgive; just as we do every day when reciting the Lord's Prayer - Forgive us our trespasses, oh Lord, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us."

Reuters reports from Tel Aviv:

The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Dr Israel Meir Lau, welcomed the Pope's call for forgiveness for past sins of the Catholic Church, but said he was disappointed he did not go further in addressing the evils inflicted on Jews.