When Rabbi Steinsaltz was asked, “What is the relationship of apology to forgiveness?” he said:
Apologies are private or public announcements of regret. When one does or says something that he regrets, he must apologize.
Apologies may just be forms of polite behavior, as when one bumps into someone in the street, or they may be sincere expressions of repentance.
Even when apologies contain clear expressions of deep regret or repentance, they do not always express the truth.
Criminals in court may express regret, sometimes even asking for forgiveness from the victim. In some cases, these apologies are genuine; in others, they are just another attempt by a condemned criminal to lessen his sentence.
Apologies made by public figures are oftentimes political moves that are born of necessity or public pressure. The only thing that such an apology conveys is that a person (or a community) acknowledges the words or deeds of which they are accused.
A statement of confession is just a statement, and as such, of doubtful validity.
The heart of the matter is whether the apology contains a real sense of repentance, and that is a question that only the all-knowing Almighty can answer.
An apology is a nice first step, but in order for it to be taken seriously – and perhaps ultimately result in forgiveness – it must be accompanied by deeds that attempt to correct the wrongs of the past, or, at the very least, a counter-measure against sins that have been committed.
Sometimes it is easy to make such amends (e.g., giving back stolen money), but in other cases, it takes years of changed behavior to confirm true repentance.