How About an Apology?

Lately I’ve been observing the spread of a disease. No, not swine flu. I mean a condition that I call apology aversion. Its distinctive symptom is an apparently permanent inability to speak the words “I’m sorry” and mean them.

Years ago a wildly popular novel about True Love at Harvard told the world that being in love means never having to say you’re sorry. If that were so — and it emphatically isn’t — it would point to a remarkable conclusion. Considering how few people these days ever express honest regret for their misdeeds and mistakes, you’ve got to figure that the world has been inundated by a tidal wave of love.

If only it were so!

Often enough, of course, people do say they’re sorry. But time and again they do that without really meaning it. The clumsy oaf who stomps on your foot and mumbles “Sorry” as he stumbles off to cripple someone else. The charming lady who cheerfully cuts you off in traffic while flashing you a beatific smile of regret. The expressions of sorrow in these and other situations are roughly equivalent to “Tough luck, fella.”

This is apology aversion in everyday life. Refusal to admit mistakes in matters of public significance is more sinister and equally common.

Consider all those journalists and think tank talking heads who helped sell America on the need for the war in Iraq and then, without so much as a word of apology, turned on George Bush for getting it wrong. Think of all those members of Congress — of both parties — who were looking the other way while the economic bubble expanded and now are busy demagoguing the bubble’s collapse at somebody else’s expense. And on and on and on.

In a special way these days I’m reminded of those Catholic sources — periodicals like the National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal as well as some individuals claiming special wisdom — who raised their voices often and loudly last year to declare that even if Barack Obama and the Catholic Church didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on everything, the candidate was moderate man, committed to reducing the frequency of abortions and to much else congenial to the Church.

Having loaded up his administration with veteran pro-abortion activists, however, Mr. Obama so far has reinstituted funding for groups that promote and perform abortion overseas, significantly expanded funding for stem cell research that involves killing human embryos, and set the wheels in motion to overturn a Bush policy extending conscience protection to hospitals and medical personnel who object to abortion.

A little down the line, Obama’s choice to succeed Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court will almost certainly be a liberal pro-choicer, while the question about his health care reform isn’t not whether but how far he and congressional Democrats will go in attempting to mandate abortion coverage.

Nor is there much encouragement in the president’s disclosure that a White House task force is looking into ways to cut the number of abortions. The answer almost certainly will be more sex education and contraception — of which we have plenty now — plus swift enactment of Obama’s domestic program.

Dialogue? So far as is known, Mr. Obama has had one half-hour meeting with anybody qualified to speak for the Catholic Church — the president of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal George of Chicago. Even admirers concede the administration is tone-deaf on Catholic concerns.

So are Catholics who said Obama and the Church would have a lot in common saying they’re sorry? No way. Apology aversion won’t allow that.


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, DC. He is the author of more than twenty books and previously served as secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference.

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