- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

VATICAN CITY In an unprecedented moment in the history of the church, Pope John Paul II asked God's forgiveness yesterday for the sins of Roman Catholics through the ages, including wrongs inflicted on Jews, women and minorities.

The apology was a personal landmark for a frail, ailing pope who vowed to cleanse and reinvigorate Catholicism for its third millennium.

"We forgive, and we ask forgiveness," he said at several points during the solemn Day of Pardon Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.

The church burned heretics at the stake during the Inquisition. Armies of the faithful slaughtered Muslims during the Crusades. And during the Holocaust, some Catholics stood silent in the face of Nazi genocide.

The pontiff did not specifically mention such infamous wrongs during the service. Few specific groups were mentioned, and no names were given.

Still, the references were clear, both in John Paul's words and those of the five Vatican cardinals and two bishops who confessed sins on behalf of the church.

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."

After a moment of silent prayer, the pope responded: "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."

Several Jewish leaders praised his penitential words, but said they expected more during the pope's March 20-26 visit to the Holy Land. During his trip the pontiff will visit Israel's Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, and the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

The director of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, called yesterday's day of pardon both "significant" and "historic."

But "he has to pay tribute and commemorate the remembrance of the Holocaust, and I know that he is going to address" it, Mr. Shalev said in Jerusalem.

Israel's chief rabbi, Meir Lau, also said he expects more and described himself as "deeply frustrated" by John Paul's failure to mention the Holocaust by name.

"I hope deeply that the pope of today, whom I appreciate very much for his doings and for his condemning anti-Semitism, will complete the asking of forgiveness next week in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem," Rabbi Lau said.

The 79-year-old pope was dressed yesterday in heavy purple robes, the color of penitence. He leaned on his silver staff, his voice clear but his hands trembling, a symptom of Parkinson's disease.

At the end of the confessions, he embraced a large crucifix on the altar for the special Mass, imploring God's 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 toward followers of other religions," John Paul said in his homily.

The cardinals and bishops, also wearing purple, cited "contempt for [other] cultures and religious traditions," and the treatment of women, "who are all too often humiliated and marginalized."

It fell to the head of the Inquisition's modern-day successor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to confess "sins committed in the service of the truth."

"Even men of the church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel," he confessed. "Have mercy on your sinful children," the pope responded.

John Paul described his actions as an attempt to "purify memory" of a sad history of hate, rivalry, intolerance and omission. The special Mass was a highlight of his campaign for a collective examination of conscience at the dawn of the new millennium.

One of the few groups mentioned by name at yesterday's Mass was the Roma, also known as Gypsies, in a confession of hatred toward the weakest members of society. Lapses by Catholics regarding abortion, mistreatment of children and "those who abuse the promise of biotechnology" were also mentioned.

Catholic leaders around the world have offered their own pleas for pardon for various lapses. Bishops in Europe have acknowledged that not enough was done to save Jews during World War II.

In the United States, church leaders have confessed a host of sins, including racism, anti-Semitism, the sexual misconduct of priests and the treatment of homosexuals and divorced Catholics.

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