Wednesday, March 2, 2011

History wants more than "oops"

Is it just me, or is the Catholic Church ironically crap at the whole apology thing?  For a group that invented the notion of confession, they don't seem to get that it's not enough to just say, "Oops, got that one wrong."  A real apology, like a confession, has to include acknowledgment of more than error, it requires acknowledgment of harm done, guilt for that harm, and a genuine effort to ameliorate the harm.  Saying "mistakes were made" in the handling of the pedophile priest issue isn't enough.  And exonerating Jews for the death of Jesus? Not even close to enough.  Start with acknowledging the centuries of slaughter, including Crusades, Inquisitions, and pogroms.  Then acknowledge complicity in the Holocaust.  That might be a start.  Because that still doesn't cover the multitude of expulsions, removals, and loss of property that damaged the lives of those not killed.  Nor does it address the pain of ongoing humiliations suffered by those you and your followers, acting on your guidance, 'allowed' to remain in their own homes.  "Oops, got that one wrong" seems to be all you are capable of saying, and it's not even close to a beginning of a true apology. 

The thing is, unlike the pedophile priests, which to the best of our knowledge at least, are a recent problem, this one is historical, and while the Catholic Church has a long way to go to earn the forgiveness of those it has hurt in recent years by enabling predators access to innocent bodies and souls, it has roughly 1700 years worth of atonement to perform for the malicious and false accusation of murder, for the vile notions of collective and inherited guilt, and for the blood libel. 

Once you've finished that one, you can start working on an apology to the African people.  Had you forgotten about them?  Or do you imagine that your complicity in the slave trade is far enough in the past that the rest of us had?   Alone of all the world's current major religions, you have spouted the absurd notion that your vengeful god curses entire races of humans in perpetuity.  It was not enough to turn this literal weapon of mass destruction against the Jews, you tarred all Africans with that same notion of inherited guilt when your theologians declared them, in the complete absence of any supporting evidence, to be the recipients of the curse of Ham, and therefor marked by your god as slaves.  Instead of teaching tolerance and love, like any self-respecting religious faith, for centuries you have both incited and justified cruelty and viciousness in your followers.  Are you planning another "oops" statement for that little embarrassment in your past?  Not to mention the things you've done to those you decreed as heretics.

"Oops" isn't enough.  No number of "oopses" can brush away historical crimes that remain shrouded in secrecy.  The victims may be gone, but their memories are still languishing in the shadows.  As any good priest knows, the first step in confession is to admit your sins.  Open up the Vatican records, let in the light of public scrutiny.  Give the world knowledge of your crimes and your victims, and give yourself up to the judgment of history.  Because "oops" isn't enough to earn you absolution.


  1. I forgot until I read the article that this isn't actually new doctrine, either, but apparently the 1965 encyclical didn't stick. You'd think that, at this point, the Pope would be working through the implications of the error, rather than relitigating the question, but you and I both know how hard it is to move entrenched attitudes, especially when you're not trying too hard....

  2. Which is precisely why it's time to air the facts. If this represents a genuine interest in making it stick this time, rather than a halfhearted attempt by a tarnished institution to burnish its image, then they need to act on the lesson of the last effort. The decision makers at the Vatican are well aware that a mere statement isn't going to change anything any more today than it did in '65. They get no credit for repeating what they know to be empty words. If they want credit for being a more modern, tolerant and caring institution, which I think it's clear they do, they need to do the hard and painful work of publicly dealing with the ramifications of their past behavior.