I am sorry. I was wrong. I made a mistake. Please accept my apology. Please forgive me.
I don’t know why it is so hard for so many of us to say these words. Perhaps it is our pride, or perhaps we worry that we will look weak, or will be perceived as being vulnerable. Whatever the reason, I’ve noticed that lots of us have trouble saying: I’m sorry. I was wrong. I made a mistake. Please accept my apology. Please forgive me.
Sometimes people offer a pseudo apology, for example, by saying “I’m sorry that happened.” or “If I offended you, I’m sorry.” In reality, though, these are just pretend apologies. They lack sincerity and have no real meaning. A real and genuine apology comes with no strings attached. It is an admission that we have done something wrong or something that hurt someone, and we ask for their forgiveness.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been reflecting on our seeming inability to apologize. My reflections started when retired Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI issued a statement on February 8 after a report, requested by the Munich Archdiocese, concluded that during his tenure as Archbishop of Munich there were four specific cases in regard to clergy abusers that he could be accused of mishandling. In his statement, while retired Pope Benedict acknowledged past failings of the Catholic Church in confronting clergy sexual abuse under his watch, he stopped short of a direct, personal apology. He did ask for forgiveness for any "grievous faults" in the Church’s handling of clergy sex abuse cases. And he did express his feelings of great shame and sorrow for the abuse of minors and requested forgiveness from all victims of sexual abuse, BUT he did not acknowledge any personal or specific wrongdoing. In other words, he did not say: I am sorry. I was wrong. I made a mistake. Please accept my apology. Please forgive me.
Now, I suspect that his advisors told him that for legal reasons, or more likely because he was the retired Pope, he should not acknowledge any wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. And yet, at the same time, I think that it would have sent a powerful message to Catholics and to people everywhere, if he had simply said: I am sorry. I was wrong. I made a mistake. Please accept my apology. Please forgive me. These simple words would have sent a clear and unmistakable message that sin and failure are a part of each of our lives, and that we all need to seek forgiveness and healing when we have hurt others by our words and actions (or inactions).
Words are necessary and important, but they are heard best when they are accompanied by the witness of lives. May God grant to all of us—and especially the leaders of our Church—the ability to say more often and more sincerely: I am sorry. I was wrong. I made a mistake. Please accept my apology. Please forgive me.