Is there anything so rare in our modern, technocratic, power-obsessed world as genuine contrition?
How many times do public figures apologize “if anyone was offended” by some grievous wrong, as if what is wrong is contingent upon negative consequences? It is a non-apology apology.
Pope Francis is not afraid of genuine contrition. He is not amazed to learn that good people — and certainly many of the religious sisters who ran the boarding schools for the Native peoples were good people — did terrible and sinful things. He is not amazed to learn that previous generations of Christians invoked the name of the incarnate Son of God, in whom there is neither Greek nor Jew, while effectively destroying the culture of the Indigenous peoples, and failed to see the contradiction.
Francis sees that a healthy awareness of human depravity is a condition for genuine contrition, and that such awareness does not lead to despair, nor need it cheapen grace. It yields instead a clarity about, and a deep sympathy with, the human condition.
When it came time to speak, the Holy Father did not just ask for forgiveness, nor simply offer an apology. The pope begged for forgiveness and displayed acute contrition.
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Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.
With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.