Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks on the need to apologise to indigenous Australians this week are refreshing because they
indicate that, in speaking to representatives of national governments, he will
be willing to address issues that have a political dimension. They also show that he will address them in a distinctive way.

This Pope has a strong sense of the
importance of culture, and the conviction
that it must be morally based. Behind his reported comments to Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, Anne
Maree Plunkett, is
the implicit judgement that the plight and history of indigenous Australians
indicates that all is not well in Australian culture. The same message was
inherent in Pope John Paul II’s seminal speech at Alice
Springs in 1986.

In Pope Benedict’s view, to heal a
wounded culture is an essentially moral enterprise. For that reason, he
emphasises the moral dimension of reconciliation. It involves the asking for and receiving of
forgiveness for actions that have fractured a culture.

This, of course, has political
implications in Australia.
But headlines that represent the Pope as telling the prime minister to say “sorry”
miss the logic of his position. Ways of
asking for forgiveness in the process of reconciliation are the business of Australia.

the Pope leaves no doubt that to neglect the moral dimension of reconciliation,
and to consider it in exclusively practical terms, will leave a wounded national
culture unhealed.