VATICAN CITY, JUNE 15, 2004 ( John Paul II reiterated the importance of historical research so that the Church can purify her memory of the sins of her children, in particular, the Inquisition.

The Pope explained this in a letter sent to Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, former president of the Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, on the occasion of the publication of the "Minutes of the International Symposium 'The Inquisition,'" held in October 1998.

"It is appropriate that ... the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel," the papal letters affirms, read today by the cardinal when presenting the volume to the press in the Vatican.

"Instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith," the Pope continued, Christians on occasion "indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal."

John Paul II had asked the Historical-Theological Commission of the Committee of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 to hold a congress on the Inquisition to prepare for the Day of Forgiveness of the Holy Year, on March 12, 2000. On that day, the Pontiff asked for forgiveness for the errors committed in the service of truth.

"The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it wins over the mind with both gentleness and power," the Holy Father said in his new letter, quoting from the Second Vatican Council declaration on religious freedom, "Dignitatis Humanae."

The minutes of the symposium were presented in the Vatican press office by Cardinals Etchegaray; Jean-Louis Tauran, archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church; and Georges Cottier, Papal Household theologian; as well as by historian Agostino Borromeo, an expert on the Inquisition and coordinator of the volume.

The 783-page book publishes the addresses in the languages in which they were delivered at the symposium. The congress was attended by historians "whose scientific competence is universally recognized," as the Pope had requested, without taking into consideration their religious confession.

The book is now a reference for historians, Cardinal Etchegaray said.

Borromeo explained that Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241) was the first to establish "inquisitors," "delegates of the Apostolic See with the task of combating heresy in certain areas."

In time, the papacy created a stable organization until the last tribunal of these characteristics was abolished in Spain in 1834, Borromeo added.

Cardinal Cottier explained that this historical study is useful for theologians to be able to answer questions such as "What is the meaning of the paradox: Holy Church embraces sinners to her bosom? What is the meaning of the evangelical testimony as a dimension of Christian life and of the antithetical behavior of counter-witness and scandal?"

"Obviously, a request for forgiveness can only affect real and objectively recognized events. Forgiveness is not asked for images spread by public opinion, which are part of a myth and do not correspond to reality," he said.

Cardinal Cottier said that the minutes have been published after a long delay due to a series of health problems affecting the scholars.