In March of 2000 Pope John Paul ll attempted reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.
Saving one of his most audacious initiatives for the twilight of his papacy, John Paul II sought to purify the soul of the Roman Catholic church by making a sweeping apology for 2,000 years of violence, persecution and blunders.
From the altar of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome he led Catholicism into unchartered territory by seeking forgiveness for sins committed against the Jews.
Fighting through trembles and slurrings caused by Parkinson’s disease, the Pope electrified ranks of cardinals and bishops by pleading for a future that would not repeat the mistakes. “Never again,” he said.
Centuries of hate and rivalry cannot reoccur in the third millennium. “We forgive, and we ask forgiveness. We are asking pardon for the divisions among Christians, for the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth, and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility assumed towards followers of other religions.”
Defying warnings from some theologians that the unprecedented apology would undermine the church’s authority, the 79-year-old pontiff asked God to forgive the persecution of the Jews.” We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood.”
Wearing the purple vestments of Lenten mourning, the Pope sought pardon for seven categories of sin: general sins; sins in the service of truth; sins against Christian unity; against the Jews; against respect for love, peace and cultures; against the dignity of women and minorities; and against human rights.
Five Vatican cardinals and two bishops confessed sins on behalf of the church during the ceremony. Cardinal Edward Cassidy recalled the “sufferings of the people of Israel” and asked divine pardon for the “sins committed by not a few [Catholics] against the people of the covenant”.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the congregation of the doctrine of the faith, confessed to the sins of the congregation’s predecessor, the Inquisition. “Even men of the church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel,” he said.
Applause from the congregation greeted the Pope’s arrival in the basilica. He kneeled before the Pieta, Michelangelo’s statue of the dead Christ in the arms of his mother, before being wheeled to the altar. He leaned on his silver staff and it took several attempts for him to get out of his chair to kiss a crucifix. The Vatican no longer denies the Pope has Parkinson’s disease. An operation to remove a tumor, several falls and an assassination attempt have left him hunched and stiff.
Speaking after the ceremony to the crowd in St Peter’s Square, the Pope stressed he was seeking forgiveness not from those who had been wronged, but from God. “Only He can do that.”