VATICAN CITY, March 2--In a move unprecedented in two millennia of Roman Catholichistory, Pope John Paul II will open Lent by offering a sweeping apologyfor sins committed by Catholics over the centuries.
But while the Roman Catholic pontiff willaccept responsibility for the actions of the "sons and daughters" of thechurch, he will make no apology for the church itself, which isconsidered "holy and immaculate," church theologian explained.The key distinction is contained in a 90-page document prepared byan international panel of seven theologians under the guidance ofCardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for theDoctrine of the Faith and president of the International TheologicalCommission.
Through an apparent misunderstanding, church officials in France andGermany made the document public Wednesday, although theVatican will not issue it until next Tuesday. Vaticanpublication originally was scheduled for today, but was delayed fortechnical reasons, officials said.
John Paul has made repentance and reconciliation a theme of HolyYear observances. He told pilgrims at a general audience in Septemberthat he wanted to start the third millennium of Christianity by askingpardon for past mistakes.
"With a penitential spirit and on the threshold of a new millennium,the church is willing to acknowledge past mistakes, when they areconfirmed by serious investigation, and to ask pardon for the historicaloffenses of its sons," he said.
The Vatican has said the pontiff will make the apology on a "day ofrepentance," scheduled for March 12, the first Sunday of Lent,the 40-day season of fasting, prayer and almsgiving in preparation forEaster.
"Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Mistakes of thePast," the document explaining the theological framework for the papalstatement, lists as sins divisions among Christians; the "use ofviolence in the service of the truth," an apparent reference to theCrusades and Inquisition; and relations with Jews.
Past errors by Catholics also are at the root of such "evils oftoday" as the spread of atheism, indifference, ethical relativism, thefailure to oppose abortion laws and neglect of the poor, the documentsays.
By issuing the theological document in advance of the pope'sstatement, the Vatican sought to dispel what the document calls"reservations" by some Catholics, who fear the apology will provideammunition to "those who are hostile" to the church.
John Paul already has apologized for the failure of many Catholicsto oppose the Nazi extermination of the Jews during World War II. ButJewish leaders contended that the Vatican's 1998 document on theHolocaust, "We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah," did not go farenough.
The latest papal statement comes ahead of the pope's scheduled late-March trip to the Holy land, where issues concerning church actions involving Jews, Muslims and Orthodox Christians are sure to surface.