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POPE SAYS CHURCH WILL SEEK FORGIVENESS FOR PAST INJUSTICES

Pope John Paul II said Wednesday the Catholic Church would start a new page of its history in 2000 by publicly seeking forgiveness for the errors, injustices and human rights offenses it committed in the past.

Speaking at his weekly general audience, the pope did not specifically list the Church's past errors but previous Vatican documents have spoken of seeking forgiveness for its treatment of Jews, the Inquisition and human rights abuses.

"As the Church looks to the great jubilee of the year 2000, she is aware of her continual need of purification and penance," he said.

"She therefore wishes to ask pardon for the sins and weaknesses of her children down the ages."

The pope said the Church intended to use the millennium to "start a new page of history."

Among the Church's past sins, he said, was "the use of force in order to impose the truth" -- an apparent reference to forced conversions of Jews and native peoples.

He also mentioned seeking pardon for "the failure to respect and defend human rights."

Catholics around the world are due to mark a day of "Request for Forgiveness" on March 8, 2000.

It is one of the dozens of theme days the Church has chosen for millennium celebrations, which begin Dec. 24 and end Jan. 6, 2001.

"In seeking God's forgiveness at the threshold of the third millennium, the Church wishes to learn from the past," he said, adding that it did not fear the truth.

The pope said the Church, "along with its positive aspects, recognizes the limits and the human weaknesses of the various generations of the disciples of Christ."

In a major document last year, the Vatican apologized for Catholics who failed to do enough to help Jews against Nazi persecution during the Holocaust and acknowledged centuries of Catholic preaching of contempt for Jews.

In an apparent reference to the Holocaust, the pope on Wednesday spoke of "the failure of not a few Christians to be discerning regarding situations of violations of human rights."

"The request for forgiveness is valid for what was not done or for the failure to speak out," he said.

Mitigating historical factors could not exonerate the church from being "profoundly sorry for the weaknesses of so many of its sons and daughters which disfigured its image," he said.

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