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The CBCP’s Non-Apology Apology

A headline on the CBCP website reads: “CBCP apologizes over PCSO fund mess,” referring to the pastoral statement of CBCP president Nereo Odchimar, A time of pain, a time of grace. But reading the statement makes one wonder if the CBCP has indeed apologized.

Apology is defined as “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” Notice that the definition has two parts: 1) the admission of error, and 2) the expression regret. Let’s take a look at some key passages from the pastoral statement and see if they satisfy the definition of apology:

we are sorry for the pain and sadness that these events have brought upon you.

We are saddened that many of you…have been confused because of the apparent inconsistency of our actions with our pastoral preaching.

We express again our deep sorrow for the pain that the recent events have brought to you our beloved people.

We can see no admission of error in those sentences (or anywhere in the entire pastoral letter), but only an expression of regret: the first sentence “apologizes” for the pain and sadness brought by the ‘events’; the second says they are saddened by the confusion over the apparent inconsistency of their actions with their preaching; the third expresses deep sorrow for the pain brought about by, again, the recent ‘events’. What’s missing is the part where they are supposed to actually say that they are sorry for the involvement of their bishops in the PCSO scandal.

The pastoral statement is actually a “non-apology apology.” The humorist Bruce McCall noted that “with sufficiently artful double talk, you can get what you want by seeming to express regret while actually accepting no blame.” The political consultant William Schneider said that nonconfessions like “mistakes were made” should be referred to as the “past exonerative,” while presidential speechwriter William Safire defined the phrase as “a passive-evasive way of acknowledging error while distancing the speaker from responsibility for it.”

The CBCP’s “apology” is clearly a passive-evasive artful double talk in the past exonerative tense. There is no true apology here, only half-hearted excuses and weasel words. Surely the bishops can do better than that? In the words of the journalist Mignon McLaughlin, “True remorse is never just a regret over consequence; it is a regret over motive.” The CBCP statement is just a sorry excuse for an apology.

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