Pope John Paul II has been seeking forgiveness from
groups which the Roman Catholic Church has harmed over the
centuries. He has apologized to the Eastern Orthodox for the
activities of the crusaders which led to the fall of
Constantinople. He has apologized to the Jews for the wrongs
inflicted upon them during the Holocaust. And, he has
apologized to the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by the
regard the pontiff as a saint and some expect he will be
canonized upon his passing away. His expressions of
contrition are a unique and surprising step toward an
Graham has apologized to the Jews for certain remarks he made
back in 1972. Among all the religious leaders to achieve
worldwide recognition, Pope John Paul II and Billy
Graham, a Catholic and a Protestant, have maintained
impeccable reputations. There has never been any scandal dug
up on either one. Their apologies, I believe, reflect their
genuine spirituality and humility. They want, by all ethical
means, to heal the broken-hearted and save souls.
There is a
difference, however, in the nature of their apologies. Billy
Graham apologized for himself, for his own doings. Whereas
the Pope apologized for others' doings and for the impact of
history. The Pope apologized as a leader, as a representative
of an organized religion, on behalf of those who committed
atrocities in the name of God, and on behalf of the corrupt
and depraved segments of his religion. Billy Graham acted as
a man of honor and conscience. The Pope acted as a Christlike
figure, taking on the sins of others.
leaders do the same? What if President Bush apologized to
the Arab world, for example, for any unfairness inflicted upon
them by the American government and American corporations
which may have acted under the leadership of past presidents?
Could this have prevented the World Trade Center attack?
Would this bring all the current anti-American tendencies to a
halt? Would we all live in post-apology peace? Is an apology
even what the extremist faction wants?
Before making a
sweeping apology, it might help to do some sort of Step Four.
As taken from the The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics
Anonymous, Step Four means to "Make a searching and
fearless moral inventory of ourselves." This is very
personal. I can picture Billy Graham doing this as he
pondered his comments of 1972. I can picture the Pope doing
this as he lamented the abuses by his church. But I cannot
imagine any president answering for the ills of any previous
administration. Otherwise, why have elections? We may as
well elect presidents for life. The whole idea of free
elections is to make positive changes if we do not like the
way things are going.
Twelve Steps as a model, it gets more complicated as we move
toward Step Eight and Step Nine. Step Eight reads: "Made
a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to
make amends to them all." Then, Step Nine reads:
"Made direct amends to such people wherever possible,
except when to do so would injure them or others." There
has been so much harm done throughout history. It would take
several lifetimes to make amends to everyone for every
injustice done. We can condemn and disagree with policies of
the past, but to undo is impossible and to provide compensation
would be an enormous task (and unfair to a current generation
that played no part in the injustice even though they may have
indirectly reaped benefits from it).
This is not to
say that victims should not go to court, or that governments
have the right to break treaties, or that people in recovery
should overlook Step Nine. Laws have to be enforced.
Citizens need to be protected. People will grow as they
accept responsibility for themselves and the impact of their
actions on others.
This is only to
suggest that rather than focusing on the damages of history,
most people and nations would do well just to stop the
hate of the present. Correcting the ills of our current
society is enough to keep us all focused on doing good. If we
all did good in our own time and generation, there would be no
more need for collective apologies. Perhaps people would feel
less intense about the sufferings of their ancestors, if they
felt secure about their children's opportunities for a bright
future. A simpler, quicker solution to history's toll is to
become examples of peace for the next generation.
(Written 04/01/02 - Revised 12/01/03: bibliography available.)
Until we meet