At a solemn service of penance in St Peter's Basilica in Rome, Pope John Paul II made history March 12 by begging pardon of God for the sins committed by members of his church over the past 2,000 years, especially those which caused division among Christians.At the same time the Pope reaffirmed the sanctity of "Mother Church." The document on which the confession is based stresses that while the church always remains holy, its members can make mistakes.The Pope's bold attempt to cleanse the conscience of the church as it enters its third millennium has generally been welcomed. But some conservative Catholics complained that the apology undermined the church's authority, while others, including some Jewish leaders, said the Pope had not gone far enough. The papal confession was made in general terms, and many wanted to hear more specific mention of the church's failures, especially regarding Catholic attitudes towards Jews during the Second World War.Media commentators described the "day of pardon" as a brave act in the "twilight" of this papacy—John Paul is 79 years old and in the twenty-first year of his reign. The year 2000 is especially important for the Pope as he has declared it a Jubilee year for the church. In a ceremony that began in St Peter's in front of the Pieta—Michelangelo's statue of the Virgin Mary holding Christ's body after his crucifixion—and continued at the papal altar, Pope John Paul "humbly" asked forgiveness of God for the errors committed by the church's members. Before scores of bishops and cardinals, he said during his homily: "We cannot not recognize the betrayal of the Gospel committed by some of our brothers, especially in the second millennium. We beg forgiveness for our guilt as Christians ...

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