May 23, 2009

Apologies in the Age of Spin Control

Mary Ann GlendonMary Ann Glendon

(Even though this article was written prior to the jubilee year in 2000, it's subject matter and thought remain salient. It is excerpted below.)

The Catholic Church is preparing to celebrate the Jubilee year 2000 and I am proud to have input into this event. After recently attending a meeting in Rome of the Central Comittee that is handling the affair, I came away with certain anxieties about one aspect of the Jubilee preparation. They concern what one might call “apologies in the age of spin control.”

As you may have noticed, there has been a good deal of public repentance lately concerning things that representatives of the Church did in the past. This is pursuant to Pope John Paul II’s call for a “broad act of contrition” as part of the Church’s celebration of the Jubilee. In his 1994 encyclical on preparing for the Third Millennium, he says that, “it is appropriate, as the Second Millennium of Christianity draws to a close, that the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel, and, instead of offering the world witness of a life inspired by values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting that were truly forms of counterwitness and scandal.”

According to the monthly magazine Inside the Vatican, the Pope presented this plan for a public mea culpa to the Cardinals at a meeting held several months before the encyclical was issued. Supposedly, he told them that this apology should cover the mistakes and sins of the past thousand years, and in conjunction with, among other things, the Inquisition, the wars of religion, and the slave trade. That magazine also reported (still on hearsay evidence) that “the majority of the College of Cardinals was opposed to that kind of public act of repentance,” though few, apart from Cardinals Biffi and Ratzinger, were said “to have raised their voices in opposition.”

Whether or not that rumor of discord was well-founded, the Pope did address possible criticisms of his plan in Tertio Millennio Adveniente itself, pointing out that while the Church “is holy because of her incorporation into Christ, she is always in need of being purified.” It would be hard to argue with that proposition—or with the Pope’s observation that “Acknowledging the weakness of the past is an act of honesty and courage . . .which alerts us to face today’s temptations and challenges.”
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When we Catholics repent during this “new Advent” preceding the Jubilee, it is not because our sins are more shameful than those of others, but because we and our pilgrim Church are on a trajectory—we are climbing Jacob’s ladder, striving to “put on the new man,” trying to be better Christians today than we were yesterday.
So far as the public face of the new Advent is concerned, I would suggest that the best way to show that we are moving forward on our trajectory is not by abasing ourselves in front of those who are only too eager to help the Church rend her garments and to pour more ashes on her head. Our best course is simply to demonstrate in concrete ways that the members of the mystical body of Christ are constantly growing in love and service to God and neighbor.
Finally, and most importantly—let us remember what these millennial apologies are not: they are not apologies for being Catholic! That we need never do. That we must never do.
To read this article in its entirety go here.

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