For what should the Church apologise?

For what should the Church apologise?

Michael Gilchrist

The recently released Vatican document, titled Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past, represents the long-awaited "apology" from the Catholic Church. It is described as for "consultation," indicating it does not carry the weight of magisterial documents on faith and morals.

Whatever one's opinion on the merits of making "apologies" for other people's past actions, Memory and Reconciliation is at pains to offer a balanced view of the Church's "apology". For example, contemporary judgments should not be made on the basis of popular misconceptions about certain historical errors, since these conceptions are frequently "false and unacceptable." One might cite the Galileo case, the Inquisition and the Crusades as complex occurrences often oversimplified according to 20th or 21st century standards.

The "Statement of Repentance to mark the 2000th Anniversary of the Birth of Jesus Christ" released on 7 March by Cardinal Clancy on behalf of the Australian Bishops Conference, was the local response to this Vatican document. It contains items meriting "repentance" no-one would argue with, e.g., the poor handling of sexual abuse cases.

However, some Catholics may see the list of "faults" as selective and over-generalised, and even smacking of political correctness, e.g., "Our efforts to assist indigenous Australians have often been misguided ..." or "The Church has not been sufficiently alert to the needs of particular groups, such as women, youth and migrants."

It could reasonably be argued that the Church in Australia, more often than not, has been in the forefront of progress in these and other areas. Some might even consider the Church's lack of early alertness and action in the face of threats to unborn Australians or neglect of sound religious education in her schools as fitter subjects for "apologies".

Michael Gilchrist: Editor (E-mail -

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