A kid can pick up some handy information in Catholic school.

The words to heartening songs. An understanding that human worth is inherent, unyoked to public accolades. The power of service over the power of self-gratification.

A kid can pick up some not-so-handy information in Catholic school, too, but let’s save that discussion for another essay.

One of the most useful things Catholic school taught me is the fundamental structure of apology.

Whether or not you accept the notion of original sin in its most literal sense — I don’t — it’s impossible not to notice that we’re all born with a powerful inclination for fault and failure.

We lie.

We treat others unkindly.

We nurture wrongheaded notions because they make us feel a little bit better about our imperfect selves.

Roman Catholic catechism calls this tendency “the sinful condition,” but here in the 21st century, it’s more usefully known as being born a human being.

Age of outrage

We live in the Age of Outrage, a time when any public act of poor judgment is met with public fury. (Remember of the case, of Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet?)

That first round of fury is followed swiftly by more fury as new voices defend the pilloried one.

Tweet something stupid, and it must follow as the night the day that Twitter will erupt with partisan howls on every possible side, right on up to the aggrieved tweeter in chief, who is clearly thriving in the Age of Outrage.

Hollow apology

One problem with the electronic whipping post is that people, no matter how patently flawed themselves, are disinclined to allow a flawed but truly remorseful person the room it takes to reform.

A much bigger problem, though, lies with the offenders themselves, whose apologies ring hollow because they almost always involve some variety of self-justification.

To be fair, a social media feed or press release is hardly a window to the soul.

But among the higher profile cases, there is plenty to suggest that almost no one in public life knows what it means to be truly remorseful. Or at least how to express remorse. Continue reading


  • Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.
  • Image: YouTube
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