Update: The Assembly Appropriations Committee released the bill to the Assembly by a vote of 10-1-2.
When he’s not pushing bad policy in Trenton, Assemblyman Merkt is an historian and amateur astronomy buff. An almost equally famous astronomer, Galileo Galilei, once was condemned and sentenced to house arrest by the Catholic church for theorizing that the Earth revolved around the sun.
Pope John Paul II formed a commission to study that controversy – one of the “dark pages” in the church’s past. In 1992 the commission’s report said that the mistakes of the judges who tried Galileo needed to be acknowledged:
This subjective error of judgment, so clear to us today, led them to a disciplinary measure from which Galileo had much to suffer. These mistakes must be frankly recognized, as you, Holy Father, have requested” (L’Osservatore Romano, November 1, 1992).
350 years after Galileo’s death, Pope John Paul II apologized for their actions. The next year, he apologized for the church’s role in the African slave trade, and later to Jews, women and other minorities. “Never again,” he said.
What does this have to do with the good Assemblyman? One might think that Merkt – a convert to Catholicism – would understand the value of acknowledging the past and apologizing for New Jersey’s mistakes.
“Who living today is guilty of slave holding and thus capable of apologizing for the offense?” asked Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris. “And who living today is a former slave and thus capable of accepting the apology? So how is a real apology even remotely possible, much less meaningful, given the long absence of both oppressor and victim?”
Merkt may not think the pope’s historic apologies were meaningful either, but the rest of the world welcomed them as an important step towards reconciliation.
Slavery was a deeply painful scar on the conscience of American history and this apology would be an important symbol in healing division. Everyone who understands that there is no statue of limitations on morality should support Assemblyman Payne’s bill.
As for Merkt – does he think the Vatican should take back its apology? Or is this an intellectually inconsistent attempt at race-mongering?