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May 1999



The Sorry Business is doing a roaring trade. The rush to issue grandiose public apologies has become a politically correct growth industry. And as with everything PC, there is something decidedly contrived and unreal about it all: contrition without penance; anaesthetic apologies for an anaesthetic age. At the lower end of the scale, the grotesque TV talk shows fuel this self-indulgent, ultra-emotive public confessional syndrome. At the top end, and even more surreal, is the 'historic contrition' of the pseudo-elite: Tony Blair apologising to the Irish for the potato famine; Bill Clinton apologising to the black people of South Africa for slavery; some high-profile Australians apologising to their aboriginal countrymen by signing "sorry books'" on a National Sorry Day - all aimed at inducing paroxysms of guilt among the general populace for historical acts they didn't commit.

There was a time when Catholics would have viewed all this secular Sorry-mania - at best maudlin, at worst politically expedient - from a distance. After all, it is only the logical overflow of a post-Reformation world which rejected Catholic objectivity and sanity to wallow in the subjective and sentimental. Yet we now find ourselves tainted by the same trite, public outpourings from our cringing Western hierarchies. Ignoring Cardinal Pacelli's common sense view (expounded as Vatican Secretary of State before his election as Pius XII), that a Church indulging in historical self-criticism would be a Church "digging its own grave," John Paul II opened Pandora's Box with his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente in which he encouraged that very thing - calling on the children of the Church "to purify themselves, through repentance, of past errors and instances of infidelity, inconsistency and slowness to act."

Though the Holy Father was careful not to speak of an examination of conscience by the Church per se, an impossibility since the Church is Holy and cannot sin (Catechism No. 829; Lumen Gentium 39], liberal prelates the world over were off and running, unencumbered by such 'theological hair-splitting.' They have barely paused for breath since. Modernist heavyweight Cardinal Martini of Milan has delighted in speaking of "our burden of complicity," of the "thousands of years of persecution," of our need to "ask pardon for the sins of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism." In a Mass of Apology celebrated last December by Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien of Phoenix, Arizona, His Lordship apologised to a crowd of thousands, first in English, then in Spanish, "for racism, for discrimination, for sexual abuse, for insensitivity, for failure to respect human dignity, to women kept out of leadership, to those hurt by closed schools and consolidated parishes, to those not allowed to receive the sacraments, to those not shown hospitality… ." While in Britain, one is suddenly confronted with newspaper headlines like that in The Sunday Times of 29/11/98: "Catholics to say sorry for Bloody Mary's terror reign" - followed by a report that "the Roman Catholic Church is drafting an apology for the religiously inspired excesses of one of England's most brutal monarchs…There is believed to be a consensus among the bishops that Bloody Mary is a stain on their forebears." To reinforce such grovelling, Britain's Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pablo Puentes, delivered a March 1999 Glasgow address awash with Mainstream Modernist verbiage about "dialogue," "collaboration" and "tolerance" - as opposed to the "real fanaticism and extremism" he detects among those Catholics who dare to accuse heretics of heresy! He then castigated "the people of the Inquisition" - people "too sure of their truth" (unlike the Nuncio, methinks) - and insisted: "we must ask pardon for them."

The agenda underlying all of this, of course, is the democratising of the Church to avoid repeating these 'errors' in future. Meanwhile, the enemies of the Church look on gleefully as every myth and half-truth they have ever dredged up about the dark historical shadow of Catholicism is now reinforced by the very guardians of the Faith they despise.

John Paul seems fully cognisant of the two-edged sword he wielded with his pre-millennial plea, commenting in October 1997 that "what is interesting is it is always the Pope and the Catholic Church who ask forgiveness while others remain silent." However, he apparently considered it worth the risk (in pursuit of his all-consuming drive for unity) to hand this extra rope for hanging Holy Mother Church to a hostile media and their episcopal allies; to prelates who would never dream of apologising for their total disobedience in refusing his request to make the Old Mass "generously available" let alone for their boundless pride and arrogance which has brought the Western Church to its knees. Yet whatever labyrinthine motives and high expectations underlay his original appeal for soul-searching, the Holy Father has merely succeeded in delivering a further body blow to his troops on the ground, who have more than enough bona fide ecclesial sin to contend with right now without adding contentious historical episodes to their oppressive burden. Most orthodox faithful, in fact, would concur with Cardinal Pacelli's percipient observation above, a view echoed by Cardinal Biffi of Bologna at Italy's Eucharistic Congress in September 1997, where he declared: "To insist that the Church ask pardon for the past is ridiculous. It is nonsensical to judge totally dissimilar situations which date back four or five centuries."

In sum, considering the disrepair of the contemporary Church and the role of the Shepherds in bringing that tragedy about, it seems incredible that they would be encouraged to concentrate their minds on centuries past. When it comes to Catholic contrition, what is simply and desperately required is the ardent promotion of Confession among the faithful (not to mention the bishops) as well as persistent preaching on the Blessed Mother's critical Fatima message. And as for bygone days, what is needed is not the sort of breast-beating that breeds apologetical Catholics who duck for cover every time hardy perennials like the Crusades are mentioned, but a return to teaching Catholics the art of apologetics - the reasoned defence of Catholicism through dispassionate, factual study of our faith and history. If the work of the various historical commissions instigated by the Pope were to provide the impetus for restoring this lost art to our schools, colleges and parishes, how rich would be the yield in commitment, vocations and converts through renewed confidence, pride and missionary zeal among the Catholic populace! It is worth reflecting upon the bracing sea change in attitude such a pass would usher in - even if the apostates and apologetical appeasers won't let it happen. For as Daphne McLeod again illustrates in this edition, a well-instructed , self-confident Church Militant seeking converts to the One True Faith is their worst nightmare.

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