Abused Girls' Father Seeks Pope Apology
World Youth Day; Scandal Casts Shadow over Festivities

By Lawrence Bartlett
National Post (Canada)
July 17, 2008

SYDNEY - Pope Benedict XVI was confronted with the scandal over child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests yesterday as he prepared to take centre stage at the world's biggest Christian festival.

While more than 200,000 young pilgrims attended beach concerts, barbecues and religious classes, the Pope and Cardinal George Pell, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Australia, faced criticism from the parents of two victims of abuse.

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal perform for pilgrims during World Youth Day activities in Sydney yesterday.
Photo by William West

The pilgrims are in Sydney for World Youth Day celebrations, which will be led by the Pope today as he concludes four days of rest at a retreat on Sydney's outskirts.

The sex-abuse scandal has overshadowed the festival, despite the Pope's pledge to apologize to victims, as he did on a visit to the United States in April.

The father of two girls abused by a Melbourne priest said he and his wife were returning to Australia from Europe to confront the Church over its attitude to pedophilia.

Anthony Foster told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. he would not accept an apology unless the Pope also changed the way the Church and its lawyers deal with victims of abuse.

"I want them to set up a system which provides lifetime help to victims, a system where they beg forgiveness of the victims," he said.

He said he hoped the Pope would grant him an audience to hear his demands, but added, "I should not have to try to see them. They should be coming to us to beg our forgiveness."

His daughter Emma, 26, committed suicide this year after struggling to deal with having been repeatedly abused by a senior Catholic priest while she was at elementary school.

Her sister Katie was also abused and turned to alcohol in her teens before being left brain-damaged after being hit by a car while drunk.

The priest involved, Father Kevin O'Donnell, died in 1997 after serving time in jail for multiple sex offences, but the Fosters had to fight an eight-year legal battle for compensation from the Church.

The 81-year-old Pope, who arrived in Sydney on the weekend and is recovering from his 20-hour flight at a private retreat, will be welcomed today by Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister.

Hundreds of pilgrims are scheduled to join him in a 13-vessel "boat-a-cade" along the harbour to Barangaroo wharf where he will make his opening address.

The German-born pontiff, who will celebrate an open-air mass on Sunday that is expected to draw up to 500,000 people, will also travel through the city in his "popemobile."

It is his first visit to Australia, where about 26% of the country's 21.3 million people described themselves as Catholic in the most recent census.

The five-day event is billed as the largest youth gathering in the world and the biggest festival Australia has hosted.

Organizers have prepared 3.5 million meals, two million bread rolls, 2.7 million cakes, 1.3 million pieces of fruit and 2.5 million cans of mineral water for pilgrims.

Three hundred kilograms of flour have been used to make one million Communion wafers for distribution to the faithful attending mass.


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