VATICAN CITY, March 13, (RNS)--Pope John Paul II's unprecedented public apology forsins committed in the name of the Roman Catholic Church over the pasttwo millenniums was greeted Monday with applause and withperplexity.

"To recognize the deviations of the past serves to reawaken ourconsciences to the compromises of the present," the pontiff had declaredduring a special Mass on Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica. "We pardon andwe ask pardon."

The 7,000 church officials, diplomats, dignitaries and pilgrimsattending the Mass listened in absolute silence as five cardinals andtwo archbishops, dressed like the pope in the deep purple vestments ofLent, rose one by one in a ceremony of "confession of sins and askingfor forgiveness."

Each man kissed a towering 15th century, carved wooden crucifix andlit a candle in a candelabra in front of the crucifix.

The prelates spoke of "sins in general," "sins committed in theservice of truth," "sins which have harmed the unity of the body ofChrist," "sins against the people of Israel," "sins committed in actionsagainst love, peace, the rights of peoples and respect for culture andreligions," "sins against the dignity of women and the unity of thehuman race" and "sins in relation to the fundamental rights of theperson."

John Paul responded to each confession with a prayer for forgivenessand ended the Mass with a pledge for a renewed commitment to theteachings of the gospel.

"Never again contradictions to charity in the service of truth,never again gestures against the communion of the church, never againoffenses toward any people, never again recourse to the logic ofviolence, never again discrimination, exclusion, oppression, disrespectfor the poor and the last," he said.

The congregation broke into long and loud applause.

But Jewish leaders expressed surprise and disappointment that therewas no reference to the Holocaust, and Hans Kung, the German theologianwho is often critical of the church, said the apology would have meantmore if it had not been made "in a manner too generic and withoutdrawing consequences."

"This recognition of sins is vague," Kung told the Rome newspaper LaRepubblica. "Nothing comes clearly by name, not the schism with the Eastnor the Reformation nor the heretics and the burning of witches nor theInquisition nor, unfortunately, the Holocaust."

Archbishop Piero Marini, master of pontifical liturgicalcelebrations, said earlier that the confessions had to be made ingeneral terms and briefly because they were part of the liturgy.

"The reference to errors and sins in a liturgy must be frank andcapable of specifying guilt," Marini told a Vatican news conference lastweek (March 7). "Yet, given the number of sins committed in the courseof 20 centuries, it must necessarily be rather summary."

In a statement issued in Jerusalem, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi IsraelMeir Lau, called the pope's gesture "a turning point when compared tothe behavior of his predecessors."

"I rejoice in his act of asking pardon for the persecution inflictedupon us over the course of 2,000 years," Lau said.

But the rabbi, who was interned in the Buchenwald death camp duringWorld War II, said he was disappointed that there was no reference tothe Holocaust. He said he hoped the pope would make amends for theomission when he visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum inJerusalem on March 23 during his pilgrimage March 20-26 to the HolyLand.

The Vatican in a 1998 document on the Holocaust acknowledged thatmany Catholics failed to speak out in defense of Jews during the Nazipersecution, but it defended the role of the controversial wartime pope,Pius XII. A panel of Catholic and Jewish scholars is studying Vaticandocuments of the period and is scheduled to issue a report on the issuein the autumn.

"Let us pray that, in recalling the sufferings endured by the peopleof Israel throughout history, Christians will acknowledge the sinscommitted by not a few of their number against the people of theCovenant and the blessings, and in this way will purify their hearts,"Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Commission forReligious Relations with the Jews, said in his confession.

Catholics are "deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in thecourse of history have caused (Jews) to suffer" and wish "to commitourselves to genuine brotherhood," the pope responded.

Other prelates taking part in the ceremony were Cardinals BernardGantin, dean of the College of Cardinals; Joseph Ratzinger, prefect ofthe Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, successor to the HolyOffice which carried out the Inquisition; Roger Etchegaray, president ofthe Commission for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and FrancisArinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue,and Archbishops Stephen Fumio Hamao, president of the Pontifical Councilfor the Pastorate to Migrants and Itinerants, and Francois Van Thuan,president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.