Paul Greenberg

Note the contrast with Hillary Clinton's reaction when her flack-in-chief, Howard Wolfson, compared Barack Obama to the Clintonistas' idea of a monster - Kenneth Starr, the prosecutor who pursued Bill Clinton in the late unpleasantness known as L'affaire Lewinsky.

Instead of demanding her spokesman's resignation, Senator Clinton explained that Mr. Wolfson wasn't making "an ad hominem attack" but only an "historical reference." And, what's more, she agreed with him. As an apology, that's more like another attack.

For an example of how to apologize, allow me a little local pride in the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock. It seems the diocese had discouraged support this year for the Susan B. Komen Foundation, which sponsors the Race for the Cure against breast cancer. Why, for heaven's sake? Because of the foundation's supposed ties to Planned Parenthood and abortion providers.

As it turns out, no funds raised by the Race for the Cure in Arkansas are used to finance abortions through Planned Parenthood, and Monsignor J. Gaston Hebert, who currently heads the diocese, minced no words when he apologized for the church's earlier statement:

"To let that statement stand would be an act of injustice," said the monsignor. "With apologies to Komen, to those fighting breast cancer and to the survivors, to the Catholic clergy and faithful who were embarrassed by the mistaken policy, I rescind the position statement in its entirety."

Now that's an apology. No excuses, no "explanations," no weasel words. Just a cleansing act. Result: Trust is restored. Sherrye McBride of the Komen Foundation in Arkansas responded in kind, saying of the monsignor: "He realized he had made a mistake, and he was a big enough person and a fine enough man to say so." Which is how making a proper apology respects and reconciles all concerned. It's an old rule, mathematical in its elegance: Forgiveness is the reciprocal of repentance.

Here's hoping the monsignor's example spreads far beyond Arkansas. It needs to, for apologizing seems largely a forgotten art in our times. Just how forgotten? Nick Smith, a professor of philosophy at the University of New Hampshire, begins his absorbing new book ("I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies") by noting that the most recent philosophical inquiry devoted to the art and practice of apologies may be Maimonides' treatise "Laws of Repentance," which dates back to circa 1170-1180.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.