Church asking for forgiveness?

Are Church Authorities morally obliged to publicly beg for forgiveness for the sins committed by our ancestors in the Faith?

To ask for forgiveness for sins committed centuries ago is definitely open to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. But all Catholics of good faith should agree on two facts: first, that not only individual Catholics, but Catholics in positions of authority have, in the course of history, sinned gravely against Justice and Charity. To refuse to admit this sad fact is not a valid Catholic stance: Truth must be faced. But it must also be said emphatically that this in no way impugns the Holiness of the Church as Bride of Christ, for every sin committed by members of the Church is explicitly condemned by the Gospel that the Saviour gave us. The worst enemy of Christ will never find a single word in His teaching advocating violence, injustice and brutality. In other words, those who have sinned against their ‘enemies’ (atheists, heretics, etc.) have branded themselves as bad Catholics.

Secondly, can one obtain forgiveness by confessing to descendants of victims the sins committed by our ancestors against theirs? Can one objectively ask and obtain forgiveness for the sins of others, even if these others are related to us by Faith, or by blood? A sin is always an individual offense, There is only one case in which all of us are guilty of the same sin: the Crucifixion of our Saviour, the King of the Jews. In this unique case, nostra culpa (our fault) is also very specifically mea culpa (my fault). There is only one exception: His Holy mother, a young Jewish Virgin.

But is it not true that when grave evils have been committed by people close to us, it should affect us more deeply than if they were committed by people of other faiths, other countries, or different blood? The answer is ‘yes’. Granted that there should be a feeling of solidarity with people related to us – however, we should make a clear distinction between asking publicly for forgiveness for the faults committed by our ancestors and officially condemning their actions. These should be publicly anathematized, denounced, rejected, detested. By officially condemning horrors committed in the past, the Church exonerates Herself from the sins of her unworthy children, whose evil deeds are condemned by the Gospel. In other words, the Church – while condemning the sins of Her children – should publicly de solidarize Herself from sinners who betray her Holy Teaching.

We all know or have heard about fathers who declare that ‘he is no longer my son’, ‘I disown him because of what he has done’. But to disown him (that is to condemn his evil deeds) does not free a parent from the obligation to pray for him and to love him in Christ, in spite of his sinfulness.

This public condemnation would achieve what ‘asking for forgiveness’ intends to do – and at the same time it eschews possible misunderstandings, that is, the misinterpretation given by the news media that ‘the Church now finally acknowledges Her sins and therefore She cannot claim to be Holy and to have the fullness of Truth’!

It is the strict duty of the teaching Church to condemn heresies. This cannot be repeated enough in an age of ‘dictatorial relativism’ where every error is viewed as a legitimate ‘point of view’, an age in which Truth is viewed as ‘divisive’ and ‘opinions’ as a bridge of peace between people.  The word anathema sit has rightly been used by St. Paul and in Councils, and I do not hesitate to write that these condemnations were ‘charitable anathemas’. They intended to warn God’s children of the poison of heresy. But has this justified condemnation always been coupled with charity for the person whose views have been rightly condemned? Charity and Truth essentially belong together. Some people can be ‘ferocious’ in their defence of truth. Fanatics are always Pharisaical, and unfortunately this danger is still very much alive. To proclaim Truth without love is to inject a subtle poison into its message. This is why Christ forbade a devil to proclaim that He was ‘the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ – the devil had spoken the Truth with hatred in his heart.

Should we expect Jews today to ask Christians for forgiveness for having persecuted them at the beginning of Christianity as related in the Acts of the Apostles? Are Anglicans to beg us for forgiveness for the murders of St. John Fisher, St. Thomas More, Edmund Campion and hundreds of others?

Moses transmitted to the Chosen people the Divine Message. He could not prevent them from adoring the golden calf. Let us not forget that one can only ask for forgiveness for the harm done to oneself – directly or indirectly, but one cannot repent for sins one has not committed and obtain absolution from men. God alone can forgive sins – hence the scandal that the words of Jesus triggered in the Jews when He declared: ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’ –  He was, in fact, declaring his Divinity.


12 Responses to “Church asking for forgiveness?”

  1. 1 Shania December 10, 2009 at 11:37

    You know this is very very interesting because all my friends here at school believe that in fact our Church did ask for forgiveness but you are right: how can a pure and holy Church, the bride of Christ, sin???

  2. 2 Karinann December 10, 2009 at 17:58

    A lot of food for thought here. I agree , the secular media seems to take great joy in saying in regard to the Church, “see you have to ask for forgiveness- how holy can you be?” We know who is behind that!
    Thanks for another great post.
    God Bless!

  3. 3 Didier December 10, 2009 at 20:10

    Well, merci madame, the question I think is a very good question.

    I too always thought that Pope JP II asking for forgiveness was asking it in the name of the Church. But now you have made me open my eyes. IT IS TRUE – THE CHURCH IS THE HOLY, RADIANT, SPOTLESS BRIDE OF CHRIST and is sinless – no one can say that it has ever taught something sinful.

    Its members yes. They’ve been evil and sinful, etc. but then it is these people that have to repent and ask for forgiveness to those they’ve hurt. It is these people that will be judged for their actions and will one day pay for their sins. Certainement, we must all pray for them and for ourselves.

    I think there has been total brainwash by the news media on the action of JPII who surely must have condemned the sins and never said that the Church is sinful.
    But we all know what the newsmedia worldwide is trying to obtain. Remember the words of the Marquis de Sade: “Have no doubt on one point: at its very birth, this unworthy religion would have been destroyed without shift, if only there had been employed against it no other weapon than the contempt it deserves–but it was persecuted, and so it grew. If today, the effort were made to cover it with ridicule, it would soon fall” (Philosophie dans le Boudoir)

  4. 4 pablo December 10, 2009 at 22:21

    Another excellant post.

    May I have your permission to go through your archives (and current posts) and download some of them into a notebook I am compiling?

    I am going to put together a group of men, and this, along with some other catechisms, will be their test.

    It will not be for sale, it will be used to determine if they are Catholic or not.

    Also, would you know if I could buy a picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel, that is in the article? I would like to buy it from that Church the widow helped remodel. God bless her. Any help would be mucho appreciado.

    God be with you, Gabrielle.



  5. 5 anne bender December 11, 2009 at 04:55

    Wonderful Gabriella! You do so much good with your informative blog posts! Spot on! I am so grateful to you!

  6. 6 Morinne December 11, 2009 at 10:00

    Amen, Gabriella, Amen!
    You explain and describe things in a wonderful simple and clear way. Thank you.

  7. 7 Gabriele C. December 11, 2009 at 14:24

    Cara Gabriella,ringrazio per le gentili espressioni al riguardo del mio blog.Si tratta di un qualcosa di molto artigianale in cui trasmetto quello che sento in qualità di cattolico tradizionalista e carlista.Vedo che anche lei si difende bene anche se,per me,la lingua inglese è assai ostica;non così per quella francese o spagnola,a me molto care.Colgo l’occasione per ringraziarla e informarla che,qualche volta,sarò ospite del suo blog con qualche mia considerazione. Un saluto carlista ed un abbraccio in Cristo Re- Gabriele.

  8. 8 Lore December 11, 2009 at 15:17

    Ciao Gabriella,
    mi ha fatto piacere risentirti! L’argomento di cui parli è “scottante”, appena ho tempo darò una lettura al tuo post e semmai dirò la mia.

    Buona serata

  9. 9 Wendell December 12, 2009 at 15:00

    In 325-6, St. Helena, mother of Constantine, found the true Cross, the crosses of Dismas and Gesmas, the Crown of Thorns, the nails used to crucify Christ, and the skull of Adam. She ordered her son to tear down the pagan temple and build a Basilica over Golgotha. This Basilica and seven subsequent ones were destroyed by the Islamics (mainly Persians). The one standing there now was built by the Crusaders in 1192. And we should apologize for the Crusades?

    One beautiful story needs to be told. In Bethlehem stands the Church of the Nativity. St. Helena found the cave of the Nativity in 326-7, which was marked by a temple to Adonis over it. Constantine destroyed the pagan temple and built the Church there now– it was completed in about 401 according to some historians. St. Jerome wrote the Latin Vulgate from a cave next to the place where Christ was born.

    Why didn’t the Persians destroy this magnificent structure of Constantine? They came to do so in the 7th century and, Deo gratias, a large fresco of the three Magi dressed in Persian garb was over the entrance to the Church. They looked in bewilderment and perplexed left it untouched.

    Clearly the Crusaders understood the importance of these places where Our Lord Jesus Christ lived, taught, suffered and died. They were willing to risk their lives to save those Sacred Places, they rebuilt a great number of them that were destroyed, and maintained the Holy Land as a safe pilgrimage site for the Catholic faithful. It doesn’t make sense to apologize for the enormity of their valiant work. Should we apologize for men that gave their lives for Christ?

  10. 10 Michael December 20, 2009 at 23:53

    A Blessed Christmas to you and your family, too! I have really enjoyed your posts, and look forward to more in 2010!

  11. 11 Helena Constantine December 25, 2009 at 07:40

    maybe you;re right. maybe the hierarchy of the church should apologize first for systematically covering up thousands of cases of child rape committed by priests within living memory. Then they can apologize the the mass slaughter of Jews through the centuries, etc.

  12. 12 Barbara January 1, 2010 at 13:51

    Gabriella, I come often to renew my spirit and soul with your words and wisdom. Thank you for this wonderful blog, I have learned much about my own religion.

    Happy New Year.


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