The blog Stinque, in the course of making an altogether different point, lists various apologies issued by the late Pope John Paul II and current Pope Benedict on behalf of the Catholic Church, including such classics as long overdue apologies for the Church’s treatment of women, child sex abuse by clergy, burning Jan Hus at the stake, Christian involvement in the slave trade, anti-Protestant violence during the Counter-Reformation (helpful hint: when your side is called the Counter-Reformation, you might want to rethink), condemning Galileo (Yeah, not the Church’s finest hour), and injustices committed by missionaries against indigenous peoples in the South Pacific.
I’m sure the Catholic Church alone could keep Apology Index busy for the next few decades. (In fact, the post I link to is called “The Catholic Apology Index.” Interesting idea for a spin-off.)
I give the Popes credit for admitting that they (or their predecessors) were wrong. That is hard for an individual to do, and even harder for a two-thousand-years-plus old religious institution. Since one of the Church’s core messages is preaching repentance and seeking of forgiveness, these apologies set the right example. Even if some are hundreds of years too late. I mean, it is nice to get an apology 584 years after being burned at the stake for your ideas. But it is much better not to be burned at the stake in the first place.
A religion that has true faith in the power of its teachings doesn’t need to burn, stone, put to the sword, torture, or otherwise abuse those who might see things another way. A lesson certain bloodthirsty cave-dwelling jihadi lunatics would do well to heed. Perhaps their successors will apologize for their actions 500 years from now. The civilized world can only hope.