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Historical Sins

DAY 310

CHALLENGE

“Catholics have committed grave sins in history, including sins of avarice, intolerance, and persecution.”

DEFENSE

Yes, they have! Jesus did not come to make men sinless in this life but to make it possible for sinners to be saved.

Sin is an ongoing reality (James 3:2; 1 John 1:8) against which we must struggle (1 Cor. 10:13). Jesus taught us to pray, on a regular basis, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).

We must also recognize that sins are not only committed against God; they affect those on earth, and their forgiveness must also be sought.

People alive today did not commit the sins of the past and so are not responsible for them. Nevertheless, the past sins have continuing negative effects in the world, and we must do what we can to remedy them. This applies to all of us, and in the year 2000 John Paul II made a dramatic act of public apology for the sins committed by Catholics in the past, stating: “We cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth, and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions.”

He went on to say: “Let us confess, even more, our responsibilities as Christians for the evils of today. We must ask ourselves what our responsibilities are regarding atheism, religious indifference, secularism, ethical relativism, the violations of the right to life, disregard for the poor in many countries. We humbly ask forgiveness for the part which each of us has had in these evils by our own actions, thus helping to disfigure the face of the Church” (Homily, March 12, 2000).

Having made this act of public apology, it remains to be seen whether others will take a similar attitude regarding their own sins and those of their forebears.

TIP

For an in-depth theological reflection on this issue, see the International Theological Commission’s document, “Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past” (Vatican.va).

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