Accepting blame and listening humbly


By Barb Arland-Fye

Pope Francis made a mistake, acknowledged it and listened humbly to those he offended. The hurting world in which we live would heal and thrive if each of us would practice humility and listen humbly to the people we have offended.

Here’s the background: during an Aug. 25 video call with Russian Catholic youths meeting in St. Petersburg, the Holy Father said, “Do not forget your heritage. You are heirs of the great Russia — the great Russia of saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great and Catherine II; the great, educated Russian Empire of so much culture, of so much humanity. Never give up your heritage,” Catholic News Service reported.

Russia launched a war against Ukraine 19 months ago, in what many world leaders view as an aggressive effort to take back territory from an independent nation. In an Aug. 28 statement, the archbishop who leads the Ukrainian Catholic Church criticized the pope, saying such comments “inspire the neo-colonial ambitions of the aggressor country,” according to CNS.


So how did Pope Francis respond? By listening, one of the scarcest commodities on this planet in our time. He met Sept. 6 with Ukraine’s Greek Catholic bishops, who were in Rome for a meeting. The Associated Press reported: “They came an hour early, at 7 a.m. at the pope’s invitation, so he could listen to them without rushing, participants said” (Quad-City Times, 9/9/23).

CNS reported that the “pope reiterated his explanation that he was praising Russia’s cultural and not imperial legacy, but he conceded that his phrasing may not have been the best. Yet Pope Francis told the bishops in no unclear terms: ‘I am with the Ukrainian people.’ … In a physical sign of his support, Pope Francis gave the bishops copies of the 226 statements he has made mentioning Ukraine since the Russian invasion in 2022” (CNS, 9/8/23).

The bishops left the Sept. 6 meeting feeling heard. They believe “that the pope is very aware of what is happening in Ukraine, and even more so we are very aware of his affection for our land and our people,” one of the bishops told CNS. Imagine the potential for improving our relationships with one another, in our faith communities and in the public square if we were to admit to making a mistake and then engaging in “humble conversation” with the person or people we offended? Humble listening is applicable to all of our conversations — whether or not we’ve offended someone or a group of people.

Last month, The Catholic Messenger published Dan Ebener’s review of two books, one titled “Humble Inquiry” by Edgar H. Schein (published in 2013). Consider purchasing the book and reading Ebener’s review ( He teaches in the Masters of Organizational Leadership program at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and serves as diocesan director of Parish Planning. Some insights:

  • A humble conversation starts with an open-ended question. You might ask: “What are your thoughts about becoming a more welcoming parish …?” or “Tell me what you think about engaging the youth and young adults in our parish …” Open questions allow people the ability to be truly open about their thoughts and feelings.
  • Once you ask an open question, your job is to listen. Listen to the words and the emotions behind the words. Listening helps you to connect with others. It builds trust. It shows that you care. Listening is an investment that takes time and patience. Given the rapid pace and perpetual nature of change in the world today, most people tend to speed everything up, including conversations. Listening is a single-minded activity that ensures open, honest and effective communication.

The other book Ebener reviewed is “Conversational Intelligence” by Judith E. Glaser (published in 2014). Again, consider purchasing the book and reading Ebener’s insights ( Here’s one insight:

Glaser presents three types of conversations: Level I (transactional) are simple exchanges of information, such as to transact business. Level II (positional) are discussions where two parties debate, dispute and attempt to persuade the other. Level III (transformational) are dialogues that transform and shape the reality of both parties. Anyone can improve their skills to listen, summarize, empathize and respond in ways that are consistent with Level III conversations.

All of us make mistakes, including the pope. He learned from his mistake by listening humbly to others. We can do the same, and begin to heal our divided world.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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