Pope Francis recently suggested in a press conference that there is cause for the Church to apologize. Responding to a question about a German cardinal’s statement that the Church should apologize to gays and lesbians the Pope agreed, and went further:
“I believe that the church should not only say sorry, as Cardinal Marx says, it should not only say sorry to the person who is gay that it has offended, but also it should say sorry to the poor and to women who are exploited, and the children who are exploited for work…When I say church I mean Christians. The church is holy but we are sinners.”
So why should we apologize? I believe it is not only because we wound people, but especially because we wound those who have less power than we do.
In many parts of the world Christianity operates from a place of extreme privilege. Not only does it have material privilege and cultural hegemony, it has the remarkable privilege of a theological and spiritual tradition. And on top of all that, we have the gospel, with a clear message of liberation and love.
With all of these things, we should be better than we are. We should be more loving, we should be more generous, we should be more kind. It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand why someone would be trans or heard a story about black moms and immigrants committing welfare fraud or met a female leader who rubbed you the wrong way: if you use these stories and experiences as an excuse to malign other groups of people, you should ask for forgiveness.
Sometimes I comfort myself that the bias in the Church merely reflects the bias in the world. But this is false comfort and complacency: we should be better. And sometimes I comfort myself that I am doing better than most, or that I am part of a community that has been marginalized, as if that makes it OK that I have abused my privilege in the past.
Christians are called to side with the poor and vulnerable. The Gospel calls us to nothing less. When we don’t do this – as individuals or as a community – we should apologize.