Pope Says Church To Seek Pardon
 For Past Errors

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) September 1, 1999 - Pope John Paul said Wednesday the Catholic Church would start a new page of its history in 2000 by publicly seeking forgiveness for the errors, injustices and human rights offences it committed in the past.

Speaking at his weekly general audience, the Pope did not specifically list the Church's past errors but previous Vatican documents have spoken of seeking forgiveness for its treatment of Jews, the Inquisition and human rights abuses.

"As the Church looks to the great Jubilee of the year 2000, she is aware of her continual need of purification and penance," he said.

"She therefore wishes to ask pardon for the sins and weaknesses of her children down the ages."

The Pope said the church intended to use the millennium to "start a new page of history."

Among the Church's past sins, he said, was "the use of force in order to impose the truth" -- an apparent reference to forced conversions of Jews and native peoples.

He also mentioned seeking pardon for "the failure to respect and defend human rights."

Catholics around the world are due to mark a day of "Request for Forgiveness" on March 8, 2000. It is one of the dozens of theme days the Church has chosen for millennium celebrations, which begin on December 24 and end on January 6, 2001.

"In seeking God's forgiveness at the threshold of the third millennium, the Church wishes to learn from the past," he said, adding that it did not fear the truth.

In a major document last year, the Vatican apologized for Catholics who failed to do enough to help Jews against Nazi persecution during the Holocaust and acknowledged centuries of Catholic preaching of contempt for Jews.

In an apparent reference to the Holocaust, the Pope Wednesday spoke of "the failure of not a few Christians to be discerning regarding situations of violations of human rights."

"The request for forgiveness is valid for what was not done or for the failure to speak out," he said.

Mitigating historical factors could not exonerate the Church from being "profoundly sorry for the weaknesses of so many of its sons and daughters which disfigured its image," he said.

The Pope has said in documents and speeches in the past that the Church needed to assume responsibility for the Inquisition, marked by the torture and killing of people branded as heretics.

One of the first steps of John Paul's papacy, which began in 1978, was to begin procedures leading to the rehabilitation in 1992 of Galileo, the Italian astronomer persecuted by the Church for teaching that the Earth revolved around the sun.

The Inquisition condemned Galileo in 1633 because his teachings clashed with the Bible, which read: "God fixed the earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever." Galileo was rehabilitated after 359 years.

By Philip Pullella