Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Debates: European
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Listen to this week's Europewide Debate
 real 28k

Sunday, 19 March, 2000, 13:22 GMT
Should the Catholic Church apologise for past actions?

The Pope has publicly asked for forgiveness for the sins of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the ages.

In 'Memory and Reconciliation' he addressed issues around, for example, evidence that Pope Pius XII signed a Concordat with Adolf Hitler.

Jewish groups say it doesn't go far enough. But should there have been an apology at all?

Europe Today brought together Piers Paul Read, the eminent Catholic intellectual, here in London, and the German, Elfriede Harth, who's in Paris with the Catholic group "We Are Church," which wants what a more loving, democratic and generous church. HAVE YOUR SAY It is no use for the present generation to apologise for the deeds of their predecessors. Past actions cannot be evaluated with present day's yardstick. This apology business has become another propaganda method.
Viswanathan, India/Vietnam

I think it is very honourable for a man to be willing to face up with past mistake committed by the church. After all, no one is infallible. We all make mistakes and the church had been proven to be in the wrong time and again. Such an act speaks well of the Pope, and of the changing of the times. I take my hat off to him.
Mok Yue Sern, Tasmania, Australia

Let the Pope apologise all he wants. Personally I don't trust any organised religion.

Richard Aplin, Belgium
Let the Pope apologise all he wants. Personally I don't trust any organised religion - they've all given rise to untold misery and oppression that I'll continue to steer clear of them all, thank you!
Richard Aplin, Belgium

Did all the lessons of the past teach us anything? The past is dead let's worry about the present and the future
Martin Hanna, Ireland

John Paul the II is the greatest person alive.

Hannah, USA
John Paul the II is the greatest person alive. The Pope asked for forgiveness for the sins of the Roman Catholic Church even though he did not have to, Why him? Jewish groups want everybody to apologise for their past, but how about other people who were killed during the war? Who will apologise for the Gypsies? Many Jewish people were saved during the war by the Roman Catholics. It's hard to swallow the truth isn't it?
Hannah, USA

Definitely! Who else has caused as much suffering and, dare I say, evil in the world than the very people who condemned these actions in the beginning? It seems as though they criticise for criticisms sake nowadays. Live and let live should be their new motto. Maybe they'd get more followers if they did.
Cryptorchid, Scotland

Perhaps if the head of the Anglican Church, the Queen, made an apology for things the English have done, like the murder of Saint Thomas Moore and Mary Stuart, the British would have a right to accuse the Catholic Church of so many "evils". Also, she should sell the crown jewels and give the money to the poor.
Gulielmus Avis, USA

Your reaction How about an apology for the Vatican's total support for the regime and person of Augusto Pinochet both in 1973 during the coup in Chile and recently during his arrest in London? The Pinochet issues certainly exposed the true colours of many of our 'respected' leaders.
Paul Boswell, UK

Perhaps they will just say three "Hail Marys" and carry on exactly as they always have done!

Shaun, UK
If they do apologise and are forgiven for all the trouble they caused, will they completely stop trying to control peoples lives ? Somehow I don't think so.....
Perhaps they will just say three "Hail Marys" and carry on exactly as they always have done!
Shaun, UK

All religious leaders should apologise for past actions. This might induce them to consider responsibility they bear for many of the current problems in the world.
Nadine Otway, France

Well, the Pope apologised for the twenty centuries church's sin. But how about the lost souls? The church has sowed and now is reaping what it sowed.
BAhati Sanga, Tanzania

As the depth of feeling on this page shows, there are many episodes from the life of the Catholic church that are far from holy and still cause great resentment. However, I do sincerely believe that this recent trend of governments and other large bodies apologising for events that had taken place hundreds (and in this case thousands) of years ago is at best pointless, and at worst another example of politically correct witch hunts that can only serve to cloud the issues that truly concern us here and now.
Dan Vesty, England

To Joe Lopes, USA. The Jews did not crucify Jesus, the Romans did.
LIam Flanagan, UK

The fact that the Pope apologises for atrocities committed over the last 2,000 years is a measure more of fear than enlightenment on the part of the Catholic Church.

John Brownlee, UK
When you boil it down and extract the essence of the Catholic, and many other religious organisations, you are forced to the conclusion that they were set up as mechanisms for the 'great and good' to exercise control over the populations they lived amongst. Having made their declaration they should then set about tearing down their organisation and dividing their ill-gotten gains amongst the needy people of the world.
John Brownlee, UK

Of course, the Pope MUST apologise. But for the Church we Europeans would still be basking in the glory days of Nordic pagan barbarism.
Pål H. Bakka, Norway

Apologise or not, it doesn't really matter. Neither will it erase the fact that the Vatican has committed horrible crimes in its search for temporal power. Furthermore, it will not erase the fact that the Vatican will CONTINUE to commit horrible crimes in the search for temporal power.
Kristian, Canada

Whilst it is good to see the Catholic Church taking some responsibility for it's crimes, the words are hollow. Actions speak louder than words. The Catholics should return the plunder that the Vatican has so selfishly kept and open up its doors.
Jonathon Berry, New Zealand

It was a courageous and highly commendable declaration, made despite opposition from many cardinals and bishops. He has taken bold steps before, e.g., against communism etc., but none more far-reaching than this one, reaching back over the 2000- year church history and involving many groups including the Jews, Muslims, native peoples of Africa and Latin America and others. Two years ago he had made another historic pronouncement on the silence during the Holocaust. I hope he would say something more on this when he visits Israel next week.
Riz Rahim, USA

The very same Pope who insists that women are not capable of being priests now apologises for "attitudes of rejection and exclusion" towards them. Perhaps, this can be justified by some hair-splitting scholastic arguments - but my common sense is offended.
Alexey Kondrashov, USA

Jews, Catholics, and the entire world deserve a clearer statement about the institutional church's sins of omission or commission during the Holocaust, especially given the process to beatify and canonise Pius XII. The Vatican should open its archives to the six historians it appointed last year to review the Catholic Church's record vis-a-vis the Holocaust.
Hilmar Pabel, Canada

I agree that Israeli Jews should apologise to Palestinians (and vice versa) for wrongs committed - in fact Barak has just forced through a project which put the works of a Palestinian poet, who writes of his mistreatment by the Israeli army and police, on the Israeli national curriculum.
Paul, England

Hey, at least its a start. Lets see if other governments and religions follow suit.
Tony, USA

If the Catholic hierarchy represented the values of Christianity, any apologies should have been offered many years before now. Indeed, it should have stood up against these gross abuses and injustices when they took place, including the slave trade.
Ubong Effeh, UK

I commend the Pope for his apology to the Jewish community and indigenous people. However, I am afraid that church opposition to women's reproductive freedom and citizenship for lesbians, gay men and transsexuals is still a blight on its record. Perhaps one day, several hundred years from now, a future pontiff might do so, for those oppressive church policies still cause harm and suffering
Craig Young, New Zealand

The pope should be commended for the "first step". It is now time to move on and to stop living in the past.

Name Withheld
The first step in dealing with mistakes/errors etc. is to make an acknowledgement of those events. You cannot possibly move forward and deal with issues, if you do not accept that those issues exist. Whilst for many people, the apology does not go far enough, it probably will never will satisfy a great many individuals and those who "represent" others. What he has done is made it possible for his successor to deal with those issues, without having the stigma of "being the messenger".
Name Withheld

A noisy group of ignorants led by a band of dinosaurs apologising for murder, rape and pillage committed by them, on behalf of them, condoned by them, blessed by them, or all of the above.
Louis Zadelaar, Netherlands

And should Israelis seek forgiveness for their inhuman treatment of Palestinians over the last 60 years?
Terry Warneford, Ireland

The Pope is right to apologise for any indiscretions committed by the Church he leads. Can we now expect others to follow suit?
GB, Scotland

May the "Heavenly Father" forgive the Catholic Church for the role played in the Rwandan genocide.
Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria

Some of the comments on this page state that "the Catholic Church collaborated with the Nazis". Pius XII's "concordat with Nazi Germany" was nothing more than an assurance that Catholics could continue going to church after Hitler came to power. The fact that he sought such an agreement demonstrates the attitude of the Nazis toward Catholics. Pius XII worked to save thousands of Jews from the holocaust, even hiding them in church attics in Rome- at least that is what is described in Eugenio Zolli's autobiography "Why I became a Catholic". Eugenio Zolli was the chief Rabbi of Rome during WWII.
Milos Persic, An American living in Europe

It is a shame that the Incas of South America are not around to here the whinging about forgiveness for the past murders of the Catholic Church. As a religion it is both absurd and totally against the teachings of Christ. Why don't the Vatican support all the homeless Catholic children in South America and elsewhere where contraception is taboo? It should apologise for the Inquisition where so many innocent people were murdered, it should apologise for keeping hold of all its riches, it should apologise for the poverty it causes world-wide. Ultimately it is not for people to decide whether to forgive or not, the last word still rests with God, and HE alone will be the final judge on all the crimes committed in His name.
Gretl Coudrille, UK

What's happened in the past has happened, there's no turning back so there's no need for him to ask for forgiveness.

Lynsay, Scotland
The Pope has no reason to be hanging his head in shame. Why should he ask for forgiveness for sins he himself did not commit? Who exactly is he wanting to forgive him? Does he expect the public to turn round and forgive and forget the past. What's happened in the past has happened, there's no turning back so there's no need for him to ask for forgiveness.
Lynsay, Scotland

Let the Pope do as he pleases, he's a much greater person than any of us
Nicholas Eley, Scotland

Let the Catholic Church give back the millions and billions which it has stolen from the innocent over hundreds of years.

Margaret Carre, Belgium
Well Said Vikki Collins of UK. I could not put it better. Deeds speak far louder than meaningless words. Let the Catholic Church give back the millions and billions which it has stolen from the innocent over hundreds of years. There are many many poor in this world who could be helped - the recent flood victims for one! What about the hundreds of innocent children sexually abused by Catholic priests - still going on every day! It is time the Catholic Church joined the modern world.
Margaret Carre, Belgium

Yes and they should come right up to date and give an apology for their support of the IRA in Northern Ireland. How many times over the last five years have we seen bombers and gunmen given a full funeral service by an RC priest. What about "thou shalt not Kill?"
David James, UK

One cannot judge yesterday's actions by today's standards ... if our standards of behaviour did not change, we'd still be in trees.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

He cannot help what other people before him have done.

Gillian Watson, Scotland
Past Popes may have signed this but our Pope John Paul should not have to apologise as the mistake of signing this was not made by him. He cannot help what other people before him have done and so it is unfair to treat him like this.
Gillian Watson, Scotland

I think the Catholic Church should show its sincerity by selling off some of its vast riches and then use the funds to establish centres to repair the damage that their paedophilic priests have done to hundreds, if not thousands, of children across the world.
Jodie Hunter, Australia

Should the Catholic Church apologise? We don't have to. But if may make us better Christians, and people many times forget the fact that during the Holocaust, the Catholic Church would not let Hitler's Secret Service divorce, or separate any Jew married to a Christian in the Church; thus saving thousands of Jewish lives through the strict enforcement of the Sacrament of marriage.
Mike Boyadjian, USA

I'm really getting tired of all these people apologising in my name for all the supposed crimes I have committed because I belong to a certain religious group or live in a certain country. I am responsible for my own behaviour. Just as I have never heard any Jew apologise for the crucifixion of Christ. If the Pope feels a need to beg forgiveness for something he has let him do so, I don't need him to apologise for me.
Joe Lopes, US of A

Will it make a huge difference, probably not, but is it a step in the right direction? Definitely.

Bill Vatterot, USA
It should be recognised that the Pope did not have to apologise for past mistakes. To claim that it is merely being politically correct is silly. The Church has been in existence for 2000 years and advocates firm (and often unpopular) teachings. Are we to think that errors have not been committed or that they will continue?
The important thing is that the Pope recognises the errors and seeks forgiveness. Some people will always want more, and others will take every once to attack the Catholics. But is this anything different than the past 300 years? Will it make a huge difference, probably not, but is it a step in the right direction? Definitely.
Bill Vatterot, USA

We now wait for Israel to apologise for its persecution of Arabs, the British for atrocities against the Irish and the Catholic Church, the Japanese for WW2 crimes and so on. But in demanding a clean break with the past, we must not forget to give credit where credit is due. The Catholic Church has done much good in the past 2000 (for example the fight against slavery, education in Asia, the works of Mother Theresa).
Kevin Lim, Singapore

Throughout history, the worst atrocities have been carried out in the name of religion. Religions everywhere have committed sins against humanity, at some time in history. This is therefore a step in the right direction, a step towards a better understanding between different groups. You can never start a real peace move if no one accepts the past mistakes and sins. Let us really appreciate such a move, and try to start a real dialogue of peace and understanding.
Vincent Zammit, Malta

The Bible urges to apologise not only to God but to the people we sinned against. I support Pope's effort for reconciliation and peace.
Sergio Markarov, Ukraine

The Pope has unburdened himself of the church's past. If others wish more, perhaps they should unburden themselves of the present, especially those who want to publicly humiliate the Pope but who themselves destroy homes and vineyards, disenfranchise and dispossess, who discriminate against non-belivers, and do all that, and more, in the name of religion. "Judge not lest ye be judged."
David Rogers, USA

Healing the tragic consequences of 500 years of Catholic and Protestant division is a task too great for one man. We all need to adopt the spirit of reconciliation that's spreading throughout the church.
David Armstrong, Australia

At least His Holiness has recognised that sins have been committed, and now seeks forgiveness.

Vincent E. Ciliberti, Malta
There is not one human who has not committed some sort of mistake in his life-time. The Catholic Church is made of humans too, and has recognised that in the past it has committed some sins. True that people were hurt, but at least His Holiness has recognised that sins have been committed, and now seeks forgiveness.
In itself it is an act of "reconciliation" and it takes a lot of stamina and courage, for the head of the Catholic communities around the globe to admit its failures. If only others would be just as brave to follow him, in which event the world will be a better place to live.
Vincent E. Ciliberti, Malta

Healing has to start somewhere, and this is a good start.

Allan Nodes, USA
Maybe the actions of the Pope in expressing contrition will help his institution and followers to progress. It is not helpful to say " you did not go far enough". Abraham's journey, after all, started with his first step.
Avi Newman, Mexico

It is entirely appropriate the catholic church publicaly renounce past misdeeds. Those acts were were the misdeeds of "people" and do not represent the fundamental issues of any religious order. This should be recognised as a crossroads through the new milenium and we should willing accept this as an offer to move forward...together.
J.Brown, USA

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
Irene H P Lee, Hong Kong

It is all a lot of politically correct hot air which will help no-one

Paul Hicks, UK
The Catholic Church certainly has plenty to be sorry about - collaborating with Hitler was only one of many misdeeds. But I'm opposed to the whole idea of present day religious leaders and politicians "apologising" for the crimes of people who died, unrepentant, a long time ago. Apologies are meaningless unless they come from the guilty party. The evils of slavery were appalling - but I don't want to hear Bill Clinton apologise for them because his administration is blameless; the British perpetrated atrocities in the Boer war - I don't want Tony Blair to apologise for them for the same reason. Nor do I want the Pope to apologise on behalf of the Spanish inquisition. It is all a lot of politically correct hot air which will help no-one.
Paul Hicks, UK

Jewish organisations - the Anti-Defamation league in particular, claim that the Pope's apologies do not go far enough. Would a representative of such organisations tell us how far is far enough - and do so in clear, specific terms?
Louis Le Galltouques, Canada

The acts of the Catholic Church particulary during World War Two should be judged by God and God alone.The Catholic Church was no more guilty than anyone else during the war.
Jim Cunningham, America

Rather than offer generic, one off apologies that lack in sincerity, the Vatican should address its specific failings and crimes of the past and offer true contrition. An honest examination of current church policy on abortion and contraception might go some way to making it appear less anachronistic and irrelevant to modern living.
Mark Woodward, UK

Perhaps the Pope should try apologising to those whom the church committed the sins against, rather than appealing to some other authority like a little child running to its daddy for protection and assurance.
Matt Grubb, UK

It is about time that the catholic church started to clean its dirty laundry, of which it has plenty. It is a step in the right diection.
Barry Gottlieb, UK

We can not continue to preach about forgiveness and reconciliation if we cannot accept our own shortfalls

Clement T Chiwaya, Malawian in USA
I fully support the church for apologising for its past wrongs. We can not continue to preach about forgiveness and reconciliation if we cannot accept our own shortfalls. I am proud to be Catholic.
Clement T Chiwaya, Malawian in USA

I believe that an apology is long overdue. Although an apology cannot undo the wrongs of the past, it is symbolic of a change of attitudes. Today we still see wars that are waged in the name of God. History repeats itself. Perhaps the pope's decision might change the course of history as people come to realise their actions are wrong. it's a good starting point, and I salute the pope for this courageous deed. After all, the bible preaches the importance of repentance. Perhaps this action might restore people's faith in God
Vivian Yang, Singapore

Should the Church of England apologise for the devastation of the monasteries and the killing of the Catholic priests in England not so long ago?
Rev. Dr. Gehad Homsey, United Kingdom

Not only should the pope apologise for the misdeeds of past, he should accept responsibility for the moral crimes still being committed in the name of the Catholic church. The Catholic church should also pay reparation to the people that it damages (after all the church has made a lot of (tainted) money from bullying the poor and the ignorant, and continues to browbeat the peoples of the third world into supporting it's immoral stance.
Vikki Collins, United Kingdom

Send us your comments:

Your E-mail Address:



Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other European stories