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'Day of Pardon' (letter)
The media (including some Catholic media) have referred to the Day of Pardon at St Peter's on the first Sunday of Lent as an "apology" by the Pope and/or the Catholic Church. Yet nowhere in the document Memory and Reconciliation: the Church and the Faults of the Past, nor in the ceremony on the day, does the word "apology" appear.
The use of this word suggests that the Pope, or worse still, the Church, has apologised to those who have suffered from the faults of Catholics. Wrong. The Pope addressed himself to God, on behalf of the Church, asking His pardon for the faults and errors of Catholics. Hence the name "Day of Pardon."
The document itself went to some lengths to draw a clear distinction between the Church as the Bride of Christ, "holy and immaculate", and the people who make up that Church, who are sinners and in need of pardon. The document continues: "Since the Church herself is holy, the purification of memory should not be misinterpreted as a suggestion that the Church has erred on questions of faith or morals, or has failed in proclaiming the revealed truth which has been confided to her."
The Australian bishops avoided using the word "apology" and issued a "Statement of Repentance", but blurred the distinction between the Church and its members by using such phrases as "Church, we ..." and "The Church has not been sufficiently alert ...". They thereby missed an opportunity to make clear to Australian Catholics the teaching as expressed by Pope Paul VI: "The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace" (Credo of the People of God).
A misunderstanding of what the Church really is lies at the root of much of the current crisis of faith in Australia.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 13 No 4 (May 2000), p. 14
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