March 2, 2000
volume 11, no. 44
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Text of International Theological Commission Presented in Paris

    PARIS, MAR 1 (ZENIT).- The long anticipated document of the International Theological Commission, entitled "Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and Errors of the Past," was published in Paris today. The document gives guidelines of a theological and pastoral nature to discern those cases in which the Church asks for forgiveness for errors committed in the past by her children.

    The text will be presented in the Vatican on March 7 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the eve of the "Day of Forgiveness," which will be held on March 12. Translations into other languages will be published on the same day the Vatican presents the document officially.

    During the presentation, Dominican Fr. Jean-Louis Brugues, who is a member of the International Theological Commission, explained that there are three types of petition for forgiveness: for responsibility (the traditional one), for solidarity, and for exemplarity. Brugues distinguished between the forgiveness asked of God and the person offended by the one committing an error, and the forgiveness requested from descendents of the offended persons. It is important to make it very clear that the one asking for forgiveness in solidarity cannot be burdened with the responsibilities of the past that belong to others. What it seeks is to demonstrate clearly the person's feeling of solidarity. Moreover, by vocation the Church is called to be an example. This is what the third dimension is about, exemplarity.

    The document, which was prepared by a team of the International Theological Commission and approved later by the members of the Commission, has some 90 pages, divided into 6 chapters.

    The document refers to some cases, such as the division of Christians, where the request for forgiveness has been reciprocal; the recourse to violence in service of truth; the treatment suffered by Jews; the Church's responsibilities for the evils in contemporary society.

    Following the introduction, the first chapter of the document refers to the difficulty of the objective. Fr. Jean-Louis Burgues illustrated this with pressing questions: "Can today's conscience bear the weight of a fault linked to unique historical phenomena like the Crusades or the Inquisition? Is it not too easy to judge the protagonists of the past with today's conscience, as if moral conscience is not integrated over time? And, moreover, can we deny that we are exercising ethical judgment by the simple fact that the truth of God and its moral exigencies continue to be valid forever?"

    Because of this, he answered, "the priority problem consists in clarifying to what degree the petitions for forgiveness for past faults, especially when they are directed to present human groups, form part of the biblical and theological horizon of reconciliation with God and with one's neighbor."

    The second chapter evokes passages from the Bible in order to discover the foundations of forgiveness. In the third, of a theological character, there is a distinction between the holiness of the Church and the weakness of its leaders, and he adds: "To the holiness of the Church there must correspond the holiness in the Church." From here stems the necessity for purification.

    According to Fr. Brugues, the key chapter is the fourth: it addresses historical and theological responsibility.

    The fifth chapter refers to those cases in which the Church has already asked for forgiveness in the past, and the sixth offers a pastoral and missionary perspective to the "purification of the memory."

    Finally, the conclusions quote John Paul II, and state that the Church "cannot cross the threshold of the new millennium without encouraging her children to purify themselves in repentance of errors, infidelities, incoherence and slowness."

    The organizers of the press conference explained that the first presentation in Paris rather than in Rome is totally accidental. At one time it was thought the document would be presented in the Vatican Press Office at the end of January. ZE00030110


March 2, 2000
volume 11, no. 44

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