The pope issued a broad apology Sunday for sins committed by
the church throughout the ages, including those against the
Jews. But the pope did not mention any specifics, including
A week before the pope's speech, the Vatican issued a
document, "Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the
Mistakes of the Past," that lists several major areas where
it said the church had failed, including the Inquisition,
forced conversion and treatment of Jews.
The prayer for forgiveness for sins against Jews, which was
read by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, said in part: "Let us pray
that, in recalling the sufferings endured by the people of
Israel throughout history, Christians will acknowledge the
sins committed by not a few of their number against the
people of the covenant . . ."
The pope then added in his own words: "We are deeply saddened
by the behavior of those who in the course of history have
caused these children of yours [the Jews] to suffer, and
asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to
genuine brotherhood with the people of the covenant."
"In certain periods of history, Christians have at times
given in to intolerance and have not been faithful to the
great commandment of love, sullying in this way the face of
"We ask forgiveness for the divisions among Christians, for
the use of violence that some Christians used in the service
of the truth, and for the behavior of diffidence and
hostility sometimes used toward followers of other
religions," the pope said in his homily before the
The words "violence in the service of truth" are a much used
reference to the treatment of heretics during the
Inquisition, the Crusades, and forced conversions of native
Some observers said that the statement had special
significance since it was uttered as part of the religious
services and not as part of a diplomatic agreement or
function. The statements were emphasized by the fact that
seven cardinals and bishops enumerated the sins and the pope
responded. The public act of repentance was unprecedented in
the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, said he
hopes the pope will use his upcoming visit to Israel as an
opportunity to address, more specifically, the church's
wrongdoing during World War II. Chief Rabbi Lau said that
although the final solution was a Nazi plan not of the
Church, still the pope at the time, Pius XII, "did nothing to
condemn or protest it."
British Jews have called on the Vatican to open its Holocaust
records after the pope's apology. Lord Greville Janner,
chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said a speech by
the pope asking for forgiveness for the sins of the Church
represented a "worthy" sentiment which now had to be turned
"I hope that in the spirit of his address, he will now ensure
that the Vatican and its monasteries now open up their
archives to research on Hitler era records," Janner said.
"Until now, the Vatican has been the only authority on earth
to refuse to do so. I hope that this unhappy trail will now
lead to honorable transparency."
The pope's lead was followed by Catholic leaders in the U.S.
Church leaders in Boston, Milwaukee, Santa Fe, Los Angeles
and Denver also offered apologies.
Many observers said that the act will take quite a bit of
time to sink in, and how it affects the millions of Catholics
around the world is the key to discovering its true