Pope Apology on Sex Abuse "No Certainty"

The Age

July 16, 2008

The head of the Vatican's press office has moved to pour cold water on expectations the Pope will offer an apology for clergy sex abuse while in Australia.

Reverend Federico Lombardi said he believed Pope Benedict XVI had not given a commitment to apologise to victims of abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, or to their families.

Any reference to the abuse issue by the Pope may also come in the form of a "statement" only, Rev Lombardi said.

"There is a problem understanding the meaning of apology," he told reporters, through an interpreter, in Sydney.

"I do not recall that he (the pontiff) declared that he would make an apology, but I do not know, perhaps I did not understand properly.

"So, I would suggest that you keep following what the Holy Father says. If the apology happens, all the better. But I would not anticipate that the Holy Father would give an apology."

Rev Lombardi said Australians should "stay tuned" on the issue, as he also would not confirm speculation the Pope would refer to Australian clergy sex abuse cases during a speech on Saturday.

"I'm not sure that I can give you an answer about how appropriate it is for the Holy Father, and when, to talk about sexual abuse," he said.

The comments come ahead of the arrival in Australia early Thursday of Anthony and Christine Foster, whose two daughters were sexually abused by a former Melbourne priest.

The Fosters are seeking an audience with Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell to discuss the church's handling of priest Kevin O'Donnell's rape of their daughters when they were in primary school.

O'Donnell died in prison about 10 years ago.

Emma Foster committed suicide this year at the age of 26, while her sister Katherine drank heavily before being left disabled when hit by a drunk driver in 1999.

A statement released on behalf of the Fosters said they remained "very upset by the treatment of their daughters' complaint by Cardinal Pell and the Catholic Church".

They will arrive at Sydney airport shortly after 9am (AEST) Thursday.

It was the Foster case, and their imminent arrival in Australia, that saw World Youth Day (WYD) coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher complain it was detracting from the massive Catholic youth festival underway in Sydney.

"I think most of Australia was enjoying, delighting in the beauty and goodness of these young people ... rather than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds," he said.

Dr Pell was later forced to intervene, saying the Foster case was "tragic".

The Fosters say Dr Pell stalled their compensation claim.

In 1998, the family rejected his offer of compensation and spent eight years in a protracted legal battle before negotiating a settlement.

The 81-year-old pontiff on Thursday afternoon will take a "boat-a-cade" cruise on the harbour then will get into the popemobile for a tour of central Sydney in an event expected to draw up to 500,000 people to the city centre.


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