Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past
This was a document developed by the International Theological Commission of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in December 1999, whose president was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. It was a considered doctrinal reflection on Pope John Paul's call to repentance and renewal, and no his request for forgiveness from others towards the Church and Roman Catholics in particular, contained in his 1994 Letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, as the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ approached.
Section 5.2, on 'The Division of Christians', states:
The principal divisions during the past millennium which “affect the seamless garment of Christ” are the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches at the beginning of this millennium, and in the West - four centuries later - the laceration caused by those events “commonly referred to as the Reformation.”
The way that has opened to overcome these differences is that of doctrinal development animated by mutual love. The lack of supernatural love, of agape, seems to have been common to both the breaches. Given that this charity is the supreme commandment of the Gospel, without which all the rest is but “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1), such a deficiency needs to be seen in all its seriousness before the Risen One, the Lord of the Church and of history. It is by virtue of the recognition of this lack that Pope Paul VI asked pardon of God and of the “separated brethren,” who may have felt offended “by us” (the Catholic Church).
In 1965, in the climate produced by the Second Vatican Council, Patriarch Athenagoras, in his dialogue with Paul VI, emphasized the theme of the restoration (apokatastasis) of mutual love, so essential after a history laden with opposition, mutual mistrust, and antagonism.(75) It was a question of a past that, through memory, was still exerting its influence. The events of 1965 (culminating on December 7, 1965, with the abolition of the anathemas of 1054 between East and West) represent a confession of the fault contained in the earlier mutual exclusion, so as to purify the memory of the past and generate a new one. The basis of this new memory cannot be other than mutual love or, better, the renewed commitment to live it. This is the commandment ante omnia (1 Pt 4:8) for the Church in the East and in the West. In such a way, memory frees us from the prison of the past and calls Catholics and Orthodox, as well as Catholics and Protestants, to be the architects of a future more in conformity with the new commandment. Pope Paul VI’s and Patriarch Athenagoras’ testimony to this new memory is in this sense exemplary.
In Section 6.2, on 'Ecclesial Implications', it further observes:
It is necessary to underscore that the one addressed by any request for forgiveness is God and that any human recipients – above all, if these are groups of persons either inside or outside the community of the Church – must be identified with appropriate historical and theological discernment, in order to undertake acts of reparation which are indeed suitable, and also in order to give witness to them of the good will and the love for the truth of the Church’s sons and daughters. This will be accomplished to the extent that there is dialogue and reciprocity between the parties, oriented toward a possible reconciliation connected with the recognition of faults and repentance for them. However, one should not forget that reciprocity - at times impossible because of the religious convictions of the dialogue partner – cannot be considered an indispensable condition, and that the gratuity of love often expresses itself in unilateral initiatives.
Possible gestures of reparation must be connected to the recognition of a responsibility which has endured through time, and may therefore assume a symbolic-prophetic character, as well as having value for effective reconciliation (for example, among separated Christians). It is also desirable that in the definition of these acts there be joint research with those who will be addressed, by listening to the legitimate requests which they may present.
...it is important to avoid perpetuating negative images of the other, as well as causing unwarranted self-recrimination, by emphasising that, for believers, taking responsibility for past wrongs is a kind of sharing in the mystery of Christ, crucified and risen, who took upon himself the sins of all. Such an interpretation, rooted in Christ’s Paschal Mystery, is able in a particular way to produce fruits of liberation, reconciliation, and joy for all those who, with living faith, are involved in the request for forgiveness – both the subjects and those addressed.