"As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith," he said in his address to the delegations in an Assisi basilica.I of course reject any pope’s assumed authority to speak on behalf of Christianity as a whole but I do appreciate that he recognizes the often violent and bloody history of the Western world where so much of that violence was perpetrated with the tacit approval or even cheerleading by those claiming to be Christians and leaders in the church. Especially given his position as the head of an organization that engaged in so much of the violence and bloodshed, his recognition of this gross sin in the past is appropriate. We sometimes seem afraid to admit our past failings for fear that enemies of the faith will use them against us.
"We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature," he said.
It was one of the few times that a pope has apologized for events such as the Crusades or the use of force to spread the faith in the New World. The late Pope John Paul apologized in 2000 for Christianity's historical failures.
This admission on Ratzinger’s part is in sharp contrast to the defenders of violence in the name of Christ among Roman Catholics and Protestants alike, defenders who invoke the idea of “just war” as cover for Christians going to war in the name of Christ or who try to gloss over the Crusades or the Inquisition or the various tortures and executions perpetrated by Protestants against Catholics, Catholics against Protestants and Catholics and Protestants alike against Anabaptists. If even one person was tortured, persecuted or martyred by someone claiming the name of Christ it is an anti-Christian atrocity and when it is carried out in a systematic and widespread fashion it is cause for deep sorrow and repentance. Of course no one alive today was involved in the Crusades or the Inquisition or the persecution of Anabaptists but we must recognize and remember the danger of seeking earthly, secular power. Seeking worldly power inevitably corrupts the church and that is every bit as true today as it was in the medieval era. We may not march off to war, although sometimes the language used in American military actions seems like we see our engagements as holy wars, but we do seek the approval of the world far too often.
I applaud Joseph Ratzinger for his willingness to own up to and recognize the often violent history of the organized church. We can never learn from our mistakes and change direction when we stubbornly refuse to admit where we erred, whether we are speaking of the Crusades or support for slavery and apartheid. The church is the church, from the first century A.D. to today and we who are called in Christ are all part of that same church. Where we have sinned and failed, we must learn from those errors to avoid repeating them in the future.