November 14, 1994
The Associated Press
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope John Paul II says the Roman Catholic Church must mark 2000 by acknowledging sins of its members over the past 2,000 years, including intolerance in the name of religion and complicity in crimes against human rights.
In outlining plans to celebrate the new millennium, the pope also repeated a desire to retrace the travels of Abraham and Moses through Egypt and Mount Sinai and to visit Damascus, associated with Saint Paul.
The pope set down his views in a letter released Monday that appeared to be a major step toward meeting the demands of critics for a self-examination of church errors.
As the second millennium draws to a close, "the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel," John Paul said in the letter to Roman Catholics.
Some critics of the Church have said the Vatican should fully own up to abuses in the name of religion such as the Spanish Inquisition or for failing to speak out against the Holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis, an allegation the Vatican has always denied.
The 71-page letter did not mention specific abuses.
Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, presenting the letter at a Vatican news conference, declined to go beyond the pope's wording but said he expected further clarifications in the run-up to the Jubilee.
But referring to a "painful chapter of history," the pope mentioned the "acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth."
Later, referring to modern times, John Paul said "how can we not lament the lack of discernment, which at times became even acquiescence, shown by many Christians concerning the violation of fundamental rights by totalitarian regimes?"
John Paul had been advised by cardinals, at a special meeting in May to prepare the celebrations, that an examination of ethical failings in today's world was more urgent than a look at the past.
The pope wrote, however, that the church should acknowledge "forms of counter-witness and scandal."
He said the Church "does not tire of doing penance: before God and man she always acknowledges as her own her sinful sons and daughters."
John Paul also called for a major push for closer relations with other Christian denominations "so that we can celebrate the Great Jubilee, if not completely united, as least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium."
The church's views will be spread by various initiatives by the Vatican and local churches over the next two years.
Looking ahead to 2000, John Paul said the actual celebrations of the Jubilee will take place simultaneously in the Holy Land, Rome and local churches throughout the world.
John Paul expressed the wish to visit Sarajevo, Lebanon, Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
"It would be very significant if in the year 2000 it were possible to visit the places on the road taken by the people of God of the Old Covenant," he wrote. The pope had hoped to visit Sarajevo on Sept. 8, but the trip was scrubbed at the last minute for security reasons.
"We must not minimize the extent of Christian collaboration with Hitler and his associates...and [we must] acknowledge guilt for the legacy of anti-Semitism and repudiate as sinful any remaining vestiges of that legacy in our contemporary teaching and practice.....Holocaust education should become a prominent feature in [Roman] Catholic education at every level."
[[the late] Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in a speech apologizing publicly for the role the church's teachings played in encouraging the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust when he was recently honored by Hebrew University in Jerusalem.]