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The ‘Splainer: What does the pope mean by ‘apologize’?

Pope Francis speaks to journalists on his flight back to Rome following a visit to Armenia on June 26, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tiziana Fabi/Pool *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-APOLOGY-PLAINER, originally transmitted on June 26, 2016.

The ‘Splainer (as in “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do”) is an occasional online feature in which RNS staff give you everything you need to know about current events to hold your own at the water cooler.

(RNS) Pope Francis has done it again — stepped on an airplane and into the headlines, this time with a remark that the Catholic Church should “apologize” to homosexuals, women and other exploited groups.

Here’s what the pope said:

“I think that the Church not only should apologize … to a gay person whom it offended, but it must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by (being forced to) work. It must apologize for having blessed so many weapons.”

What does it mean — if anything — that this extremely popular pontiff has called his church on the carpet two weeks after the Orlando, Fla., shooting rampage, in which 50 people, including the gunman, were killed?

Let us ‘Splain . . .

Q: What does it mean that the pope used the words “I think the Church … should apologize”?

A: Officially, not a lot. Francis can’t issue a formal apology for the church in off-the-cuff remarks made to reporters on the papal plane during a flight back from Armenia. Official Catholic Church apologies are extremely rare — when John Paul II issued a string of them in 2000 a church spokesman called it “an entirely new thing.”

But unofficially, the remark has huge implications. Writing in America magazine, the Rev. James Martin called the remarks “groundbreaking.

“No matter how many people tell you that this is nothing new, it’s new,” writes Martin, a Jesuit like the pope. “No pope has spoken like this regarding the LGBT community. Just a few years ago saying that the church should ‘apologize’ to gays and lesbians would have probably gotten a person censured, disciplined or silenced.”

Q: Why would Francis make these remarks if they are not an “official” apology?

A: Several times in the three-plus years he’s been pope, Francis has used informal press conferences to make remarks that have shocked and surprised both Catholics and non-Catholics. His most reverberating remark, perhaps, also had to do with gays when, in 2013, he said, “Who am I to judge them if they are seeking the Lord in good faith?”

The comment ricocheted around the world and jump-started an ongoing conversation about the role of gays in the church — a conversation that remains unresolved. This most recent comment may be another example of Francis using the Catholic version of the bully pulpit to advance issues important to him.

Q: Has the church ever officially apologized to or asked forgiveness of any groups before?

A: Yes. Pope John Paul II — another extremely popular pope — made numerous apologies: for the persecution of Galileo, for the Crusades, for burning people it deemed heretics, for its involvement in slavery and for its silence and inaction during the Holocaust, among others.

”Recognizing the deviations of the past serves to reawaken our consciences to the compromises of the present,” John Paul II said during the 2000 Jubilee year, a time when the church focuses on pardon, forgiveness and renewal. But that apology was years in the making, overseen by a committee and ran 31 pages. It was also extremely careful in its language, concerned that it would be misused by “those hostile to the church.”

And Benedict XVI issued an apology for the clergy sex abuse scandal, saying in 2008, “I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering.” That speech, too, was carefully planned and orchestrated and was followed by a meeting with some victims and a Mass.

So while Francis’ comments on the plane were not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church, they are another indication that the new boss ain’t the same as the old boss.

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

45 Comments

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  • What does apologize mean?

    well, first he says that the Church SHOULD apologize, not WILL apologize.

    Second, It means he’ll say something that sounds nice, but will not actually DO anything to make amends for it.

    Sorry– not really– if I sound a bit cynical, but I am sick to death of the church blaming innocent gay people for a CHURCH problem that goes back for at least 1000 years.

  • Life is hard in and of itself. Why burden it more with distinctions that Christ would have never made.

  • More dishonest reporting. The pope went on to say “when I say the Church, I mean Christians,” so he was not referring specifically to the Catholic Church. Nor was he apologizing for calling same-sex marriage an “anthropological regression” in 2014 nor for comparing transgenders people to nuclear weapons because both “do not recognize the order of creation” in 2015. Nor was he apologizing that the Polish priest, Krzysztof Charamsa, was fired from the Vatican in Oct. 2015 after coming out.

  • If the pope does not have the power to make change, he is a figurehead, a puppet. Show us the Board of Directors. We have a bone to pick with them!

  • Apology in Popespeak means, “pretending one’s intentions are far more progressive than reality permits and keep maintaining a reactionary status quo”

  • If you believe Christians needs to apologize to homosexuals, then you have bought into the homosexual propaganda where they are always the victim. They aren’t.

  • If you DON’T believe Christians needs to apologize to homosexuals, then you have bought into the FUNDAMENTALIST propaganda where they are always the victim, are never the perpetrators, love-love-love everyone, and have never tried to use the coercive power of the state against people they disapprove of.
    you’re welcome.
    you’re welcome.

  • Except, others will tell you what you are doing is correct and good, when Jesus, who doesn’t lie, said homosexuality is a sin that leads to death. Now, who is lying to you and trying to hurt you? Not Jesus.

  • Jesus said homosexuality is a sin that leads to death. right.
    Jesus said not one word about the subject. but Sock Puppet Jesus says all kinds of things, usually a reflection of what his fervent admirers want him to say.

  • Bless your little heart out Sandy, but Jesus still didn’t say anything about sexual orientation.

  • Ben, don’t you love it when someone like “our dear friend” Sandy says something arrogant and condescending, then concludes with “blessings”? How very Christianist of her.

  • Bless your heart honey…..how many times do you need to be taught that Jesus said everything in the Bible?

  • in other words, you have no citation, just your insults. Good to know.
    So-called Christians do so much of our work for us.

  • Bless your heart honey…..how many times do you need to be taught that everything you say about the bible is not true?

  • Bless your heart honey…..how many times do you need to be told that I didn’t say Jesus “endorses” homosexuality. I said he doesn’t mention it.

    Bless your heart honey.

  • Bless your heart honey…..how many times do you need to be taught that repeating the same thing over and over means nothing?

    Bless your heart honey.

  • and you sweetheart. Christ mentioned it all over the Bible, from Sodom and Gomorrah to the Book of Revelation. Refresh yourself on scripture hon.

  • and you sweetie….I would suggest that you stop making your comment and take some time to learn the truth then. Follow your advice.

  • and you sweetheart. Christ only spoke in the Gospels. Refresh yourself on scripture hon.

  • Bless your heart, sweetie. You’re such a wonderful, bright, shining example of a true Christian. I am truly inspired hon.

  • and you sweetie….I would suggest that you stop making your comment and take some time to learn the truth then. Follow your advice.

    And bless you hon, icon of Christianity that you are. I stumble in gratitude for your graciousness and generosity. Oh, that I could only be a little bit like you.

    Bless you, bless you, bless you.

  • Thank you. I strive to be like Jesus – sometimes I’m able to, sometimes not. Perhaps you would be interested in such also?

  • I’m thrilled you understand the depth of my sincerity. You keep striving, dear heart. You can do it!

  • Oh you are so welcome. I pray that I may grow up to be a spirited little filly just like you.

    Okay, I’m going to stop now dearie, because I know it’s important to you in your faith journey to get the last word. You’re just as sweet as molasses, so you go right ahead.

  • Her Leftness, don’t you love it when leftists and liberals think that criticising them is not loving them. Just like a child. If you don’t agree with them, you hate them. And as you hate them, you are an oppressor. And as you are an oppressor, they can do whatever with you. Like making you bankrupt. And then calling it tolerance.

    Does that come naturally to them or they learn it in courses at Universities. ‘Cause that is an interesting strategy to get acceptance.

  • Apology in LibHear means, “Accepting every thing what they want, to the extent they want, and taking pro-active actions to induce changes by power of governnment and judicial system to force acceptance onto people who do not agree by making laws to penalise ‘oppresors’ and curbing freedom in name of tolerance aligning to a select agenda whilst completely ignoring other side because that is ‘not progressive’, ‘not modern’, ‘not liberal’, and ‘not 21st century’.”

  • I can’t help it if your bigotry is no longer socially or legally acceptable. Now you know how segregationists felt. After all you are using their arguments verbatim.

  • Do you know what is funny about you people? How you claim everyone else is a bigot and are intent on cashing in slavery FOREVER.
    I am sure even after 1000 years, you will continue to bring on segregation to support your agenda because that is the only thing you have. Does not matter if race and sexual orientation are different things. Does not matter if Republicans were the ones to abolish slavery. Does not matter even if black people tell you this is not the same thing.

    Fast forward 3016

    Mr. Spud – Mom, I want to marry a horse
    Mom – You can but do not expect me to think you are not weirdo.
    Mr. Spud – Mom, did you join KKK? You are acting like segregationists.
    Mom – (facepalm)

  • Do you know what is more inane than being a bigot, complaining about being called one without bothering to demonstrate why it was somehow inappropriate. All it shows is that one is not only a bigot, but a thin skinned one. You don’t want to be called a bigot, don’t act like one.

    Jonny Boy, if you can’t understand the differences between relations of two consenting adults and any other type, you are too far gone to expect a sane response.

    As for your bigotry is different from racism, it makes no difference here. You are using the exact same arguments used by racists to give their type of bigotry color of law. Changing the type of bigotry doesn’t suddenly make discrimination a correct action.

  • Mr. Spuddie, do you know what is more hillariously ridiculous than being a “bigot” (in your sense, meaning not approving of whimsical and stupid desires of every kind)? It is conflating skin color with an actual action and calling other people segregationists if they do not agree.
    “Do not approve my perverted fetish, then you are KKK”
    It might be good for you to harness sheep to your side and fill them in your ranks but even a 5 year old child can see that willful actions =/= conditions by birth. Just because we are not racists, does not mean you can emotionally compel us to be mute slaves of your wants and not criticise or have strong opinions of your actions.
    Oh! You can call me bigot all day long. I know everyone who does not approve your kinky fetish must also be an “oppressor” to you. Who cares? Your whining makes me a bigot only as much as a dude calling Earth flat. If my “bigotry” helps in securing my right to have opinion, right to participate in public policy, right to vote then it is a small price to pay.

    You are hillarious Mr. Spuddie. Because I DO NOT UNDERSTAND your worldview, which is just a coy way to avoid saying that I DO NOT AGREE with you, you call me a bigot. I wonder what you plan to do with dissenting adults like us. Oh! Use government and poilce on us. Right?

    Do you know what is bigotry? We are forced to stop at red lights. I want to stop at pink.

    Please protest against the bigotry of people who want red light as stopping light.

    Thank You,
    Your sincerely,
    John “Dino Slayer” Love

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