Attitudes Toward Social Injustice, Jews, Disunity and Violence

ROME — Many Catholics take Lent as an opportunity to participate in a general confession, in which they recall sins of their past. During this Jubilee year Lent, Pope John Paul II plans a confession of sorts for the entire body of the faithful.

On March 12, Pope John Paul II plans to observe the Jubilee Day of Forgiveness by asking pardon on behalf of Catholics for sins in its the past — including Christians’ attitude toward Jews.

The Church “is not afraid of the truth that emerges from history, and it is ready to recognize errors where they are demonstrated, especially when they concern the respect owed to individuals or communities,” said a special document prepared for the event.

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Called “Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past,” the document was prepared by the International Theological Commission, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and made public March 1.

It cited examples of historical wrongs that have been identified by the Pope as potential grounds for an examination of conscience: the division between Christians; the use of violence in the service of truth, as by the Inquisition; the failure by Christians to denounce social injustices; and the relations between Christians and Jews.

The Church itself, as the “spouse of Christ,” is a holy institution that cannot sin, it said. In determining responsibility, it said, care must be taken not to blame an entire Christian community for the faults of a few.

“The fault is always personal, although it wounds the entire Church,” the document said of past wrongs.

It also said that the social context of supposed past faults must be carefully considered and without unprejudice.

As regards relations with Jews, the document stated: “The hostility or mistrust shown by numerous Christians toward Jews over the course of time is a painful historical fact.” It specifically mentioned Jewish suffering during World War II.

This fact requires an act of repentance, which should itself spur new efforts toward better appreciating the “wound inflicted on the Jews.”

The document emphasized that the request for forgiveness asked by modern Christians was addressed to God. Its aim, it said, is the glorification of God and his mercy, not to feign humility or repudiate the Church's past.