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Asking pardon worldwide


John Paul II’s March 12 “day of pardon,” during which the pope made unprecedented statements of regret for pas wrongs by church members, has inspired similar apologies from Catholic leaders around the world.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles apologized March 6 to minorities, women and homosexuals for failures by the church to be welcoming and to adequately defend their human and civil rights.

Mahony’s apology was seen as especially dramatic because he directly mentioned the Immaculate Heart Sisters, apologizing to women religious “who may have felt slighted, not fully appreciated or discrminated against in any way.”

In the immediate post-Vatican II period, the dissolution of the Immaculate Heart community in Los Angeles, in part because of disputes with then-Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, created one of the bitterest controversies in the American church.

Mahony also apologized “for intemperate remarks orally or in writing” by him that failed to honor the efforts of various people or groups within the diocese.

In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law apologized March 11 for 12 “sins of the past,” including anti-Judaism and racism, divisions amoung Christians, and the church’s failure to adequately defend women, immigrants and the physically and psychologically disabled. Law also apologized for the sexual misconduct of priests and religious.

“Not to have included that in any general acknowledgement of faults would have been such a glaring omission in terms of recent history,” Law said in a news conference. “I know that victims of abuse carry this memory well beyond the incident or incidents in their life, and their families do as well and the pain is really incaculable.”

Detroit’s Cardinal Adam Maida apologized March 11 for sins committed by church members agains Jews and other minority groups.

“We are aware of intolerance and violence that has been shown toward many people simply because of the color of their skin, ethnic orgin or their religious background,” Maida said.

Other apologies came from Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., Bishop Daniel A. Hart of Norwich, Conn., and Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli of Wilmington, Del.

In recent months, three other American prelates -- Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and Archbishops Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee and Charles Chaput of Denver -- have issued apologies to Jews (NCR, Dec. 17, 1999)

In other parts of the world, the Catholic bishops of Australia apologized March 8 for misguided efforts to help indigenous peoples. Historically, mixed-race children there were often forcibly separated from their parents as a matter of state policy and placed with white families or in church-run institutions, a phenomenon known as the “stolen generation.” Catholic and other Christian leaders have in recent years apologized extensively for their roles in the policy.

The Swiss Catholic bishops asked forgiveness March 9 for the way the church “failed in its obligations toward the Jewish people” during the Nazi era. The bishops also noted that many Christian families and institutions welcomed and saved Jewish refugees from Germany and Nazi-occupied countries.

National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2000