The Pope has publicly asked for forgiveness for the sins of the Catholic Church throughout the ages.
   The unprecedented gesture by the spiritual leader of the world's one billion Catholics is one of the first major events of the Vatican's year-long celebrations marking the beginning of the new Christian millennium.
   "We are asking pardon for the divisions among Christians, for the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth, and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility assumed toward followers of other religions," said Pope John Paul II, dressed in the purple robes of Lent.
   The phrase "violence in the service of truth" was an often-used reference to the treatment of heretics during the Inquisition, the Crusades, and forced conversions of native peoples.
   The Pope said he was seeking pardon for sins committed against Catholics, describing his action as an attempt to "purify the memory" from a sad history of hate and rivalry.
   The homily at The Day of Pardon Mass in St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican did not mention specific groups.
   But confessions of sin made by seven Vatican cardinals, each with a response from the pope, asked for forgiveness for named wrongs.
   Cardinal Edward Cassidy, raising the issue of the treatment of Jews, said: "Christians will acknowledge the sins committed by a not a few of their number against the people of the covenant."
   "We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood," the Pope responded, without making specific reference was made to the Holocaust.
   Other confessions touched on treatment of racial and ethnic groups and "contempt for their cultures and religious traditions" and toward women "who are all too often humiliated and emarginated".
   It was the first time in the history of the Catholic Church that one of its leaders has sought such a sweeping forgiveness for its past sins.


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