How To Say I’m Sorry- A Spiritual Reflection

Last week we looked at an article in The Atlantic magazine, and examined a Pew Survey on why people don’t attend church. The biggest takeaways were that there is a variety of religious experience in America, that some people are drifting away from religion, yet others are moving toward it.


So, I posed the question: What must St. Monica “be” and what should St. Monica “do” to work with the Holy Spirit’s movement in people’s lives so that “getting out of bed” on Sunday’s is something desired? Might St. Monica Parish, and me as the local pastor, need to first apologize to people for something that was done (or not done) in their lives by the Catholic church? That is not easy however.


We saw this during the Year of Mercy that was proposed by Pope Francis. Anyone with whom I spoke during that year, mentioned how they were struggling. They liked the concept; practicing it was terribly difficult. A study by the Ohio State University caught my eye and I think it will be valuable to you too.

Roy Lewicki is Professor Emeritus of Management and Human Resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business and was the lead author of a study on “effective apologies.” The bottom line: Roy Lewicki found that there are six components to an apology – and the more of them you include when you say you’re sorry, the more effective your apology will be. In two separate experiments, Lewicki and his co-authors tested how 755 people reacted to apologies containing anywhere from one to all six of these elements:

  • Expression of regret;
  • Explanation of what went wrong;
  • Acknowledgement of responsibility;
  • Declaration of repentance;
  • Offer of repair; and
  • Request for forgiveness.


The research found that not all six elements are equal. See if you can guess. Here is the list in order of importance:

  1. Acknowledgement of responsibility;
  2. Offer of repair;
  3. Expression of regret;
  4. Explanation of what went wrong;
  5. Declaration of repentance; and the least effective element:
  6. Request for forgiveness.


Participants were less likely to accept apologies when the person showed a lack of integrity versus a lack of competence. Saying “I’m sorry” with all six components takes leadership of self. Every leader should have the competence and confidence to say I’m sorry and mean it. Just think of where our Church would be today, if we all practiced what science and reason teach us.

Nevertheless, there are factors that can stand in the way of this “leadership of self.” We will examine one of those factors next week.


(Some information presented by Deacon Chuck Lewis working with the Catholic Leadership Institute)


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