Stephen Kent

I’m sorry.

Apologies were rampant one recent week. Apologies were issued by the pope, the president of General Motors, an outgoing cabinet secretary and a cable television company. They ranged from good (the pope) to poor (the cable spokesman).

A proper apology should take responsibility for the offense, express sorrow or at least recognize the effect the action had on others and make amends for the offense.

On this scale, Pope Francis’ apology, on behalf of the church, for sexual abuse of children by clergy, scores well.

“I feel called to take responsibility for all the evil some priests — large in number, but not in proportion to the total — have committed and to ask forgiveness for the damage they’ve done with the sexual abuse of children,” he told the International Catholic Child Bureau April 11 at the Vatican.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra also scored well on the apology scale. She appeared before a House committee to acknowledge GM’s failure to recall faulty ignition switches, which have been linked to at least 13 fatalities.

Barra appeared in a scene that has become sort of a national confessional: sitting at a table before a panel of representatives surrounded by television cameras, microphones, water bottles and lots of attorneys.

“Today, GM will do the right thing,” she said. “That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially the families and friends (of those) who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry.”

Since Pope Francis and Barra are relatively new in their positions atop their respective institutions, they should receive extra credit for taking responsibility for the failings of their organizations, even though they weren’t in charge at the time.

The most annoying type of apology is the conditional one, the “if-then.” This is only a step above the “whoops.” Usually, this apology is phrased in the following way: “If my actions have offended anyone, then I apologize.”

During this week of apologies, there was championship boxing on pay-per-view for $70. The signal went off during the preliminary bouts, then was restored just in time for the main event. As the contenders were being introduced, the screen went blank again, not returning until the fifth round. This was particularly upsetting to the viewers in one area of California, who had paid to watch their hometown fighter.

“Our engineers fixed it as quickly as possible so our customers could see the final rounds of the main event,” a spokesman for the cable company said.

This reminds me of a couple arriving very late for a baseball game. The husband was fuming as they took their seats in the eighth inning. The scoreboard showed no hits, no runs for either team. “See, we didn’t miss a thing,” the wife said.

A good apology requires empathy, truly appreciating the feelings of others. Making a proper apology is difficult since it can be seen as an admission of failure. But it can be an act of humility as well, leading to seeking forgiveness, one of the blessings of the spiritual life.


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: