Pope's Spokesman Casts Doubt on Form of Sex Abuse Apology

ABC News

July 16, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI's spokesman has raised doubts over whether the pontiff will offer a full and unreserved apology for sexual abuse by clergymen during his visit to Sydney's World Youth Day.

The contradictory signal came just three days after the pontiff himself, during his flight to Sydney, said he would apologise.

The comments are likely to add to criticism of the Church, which is under fire for supposed mishandling of a sexual abuse case in Melbourne over a decade ago.

Mixed message... the Pope (pictured onboard a plane to Australia) had earlier indicated that he would offer an apology.
Photo by Vincenzo Pinto

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said the pope had not given a commitment he would apologise to the victims of priestly sex abuse and may simply refer to the issue in a "statement".

"I draw your attention to the term 'apology' that journalists are using," Father Lombardi said in Italian during a press conference.

"The pope in the plane (to Australia) spoke of the problems of sexual abuse but I don't think he said he would apologise and I advise you to listen to what the pope says when he raises the issue," Father Lombardi said, without elaborating.

The pontiff was however clear on Sunday when he told journalists in English that he would examine how the church can "prevent, heal and reconcile" the past crimes of the clergy.

"This is the essential content of what we will say as we apologise," the Pope had said.

Father Lombardi, who speaks limited English, said the Pope would likely speak about sex abuse in the church during a meeting with bishops and Australian novices on Saturday.

It was in the same forum that the head of the Catholic church earlier this year apologised for the scourge during a visit to the United States.

The doubts raised by Father Lombardi's comments are likely to fuel criticism of the church following Lateline's revelations of its handling of a case of sexual abuse in Melbourne.

Anthony Foster's daughters, Emma and Katherine, were raped by Melbourne priest Father Kevin O'Donnell when they were in primary school.

Earlier this year, Emma Foster committed suicide at the age of 26. Katherine developed a heavy drinking habit and was hit by a drunk driver in 1999. She was left physically and mentally disabled, requiring 24-hour care.

Mr Foster is on his way to Sydney from Europe seeking an audience with Cardinal George Pell, who was Archbishop of Melbourne at the time, or Pope Benedict.

On Wednesday afternoon Bishop Anthony Fisher expressed his disappointment that the issue had been raised during World Youth Day.

"Happily, I think most of Australia was enjoying delighting in the beauty and goodness of these young people and the hope - the hope for us doing these sorts of things better in the future - as we saw last night, rather than, than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds," he said.

"The Cardinal has lead in this, in the Church in this country; he tried to put in better and better processes to deal for these things so that we get it right. "

Mr Foster last night told the ABC's Lateline program he could barely believe that Bishop Fisher had made the comments.

"It's unbelievable to hear a Bishop of the Church make comments like that about victims," he said.

"My response to that is people are dwelling on these instances because they are continuing wounds. We're still grieving over the death of our daughter."


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