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The Pope Apologizes

     In a historic gesture, Pope John Paul II has apologized for the historical crimes committed by Catholics. He is not just a Prince of the Church; he is a profoundly pious man. When, after the apology, he embraced the leg of an image of Christ, he was clearly asking himself "What would Christ have done?" He will probably go down in history as the most saintly of bishops. There is something pagan about such men. Saint Francis hailed Brother Sun and Sister Moon. The Pope paid reverence to the bush at St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, allegedly descended from the burning bush of Moses. In comparison with the Pope, the Orthodox monks of the monastery seemed rather shabby creatures, treating him as just another visitor on the grounds that he did not belong to the Orthodox Church. Their typical attitude is related to the fact that Orthodox Russia resented the evangelization efforts of Catholic Poland.
     The Pope made his apology despite warnings from cardinals that he was inviting criticism. They were right: qui s'excuse s'accuse. Sure enough, enemies of the Church accused him of not apologizing enough. In fact, it behooves all religions to apologize. A former nun, Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, has just published The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In fact of the three, Christianity is the one which has the most built-in cult of reconciliation and peace, indeed pacifism. The Pope apologized for the misdeeds of the Crusades, but the trouble began when the Arabs swept across North Africa, wiping out the Christianity then flourishing there. It was this which persuaded St. Augustine to develop the theory of the just war.
     The Pope also apologized for the Inquisition, thus hitting not only Spain but Dante, who applauded the crusade against the Albigensians. When I fist went to then very Catholic Spain, I was struck by the depth of anti-clericalism. The Pope has proclaimed as martyrs some 300 Spanish priests murdered in the Civil War. Ana María Eccles has described for us the hatred of the Church in her home town Sigüenza during the Civil War. The bishop was tortured and killed.
     During the Reconquest, the Christians swept south through lands with a large Moorish and Jewish population. They forcibly accepted conversion or were expelled. The conversos were suspected of hypocrisy and therefore disloyalty to the crown in that period of Cuius regio, eius religio.
     In this year of celebration, a balanced presentation would have stressed the good deeds of the Church, including those of the missionaries who evangelized the New World. The deep piety of the Indian peasants of Latin America is testimony to the fact that they viewed the Church as their great protector against secular power. Mexican peasants have been clamoring to have Juan Diego proclaimed a saint, something the Church has been loath to do since his historicity is dubious. The Pope has sidestepped the issue by announcing that thirty-seven Mexicans would be beatified.
     In brief, evil deeds have been committed in the name of all religions. It is an old story, as the Latin verse testifies. Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. For fear that this might appear to be an attack on religion, we were taught that religio meant superstition. It does not. I will ask Professor Robert Gregg for a ruling on this and a clarification as to the target of this charge.

Ronald Hilton - 3/12/00