Papal Apology a Way Forward on Abuse Shame

Canberra Times
July 18, 2008

WITH expectations in the past week waning that Pope Benedict XVI might say sorry to sex abuse victims of clergy, it was heartening to see yesterday's decisive apology.

It has been the elephant in the room throughout what has been an overwhelmingly celebratory week for the Catholic Church during its World Youth Day activities.

The pontiff's apology was unequivocal such abuses were a source of shame, deserving of condemnation, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

He described the "evil" acts as a grave betrayal of trust. The issue of sex abuse has shadowed the Catholic Church for too long. Stories of young victims surface, sometimes years after the fact, and accusations of mishandling of many allegations have been a blight on the institution.

It was illustrated again last week when Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell, the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia, was forced to defend his handling of a number of historic allegations. More distressing was the case of Emma and Katherine Foster, whose parents Anthony and Christine flew to Sydney in the hope of securing an audience with the Pope or Cardinal Pell.

Melbourne priest Kevin O'Donnell raped the couple's two daughters, Emma and Katherine, when they were in primary school.

After an eight-year legal battle, the family was compensated (out of court). Emma Foster committed suicide this year at the age of 26, while her sister Katherine drank heavily and was left disabled when she was hit by a drunk driver in 1999.

Will an apology ever be enough for the Fosters? Why did they have such a long and devastating battle to get justice?

While the Pope's words cannot undo the acts perpetrated on innocent followers of their faith, it is a way forward.

For the Catholic Church to remain relevant in this 21st century action must now follow these sentiments.

The church must support procedures, structures and services. And above all, it must thoroughly and honestly examine the causes for such sex abuse and develop solutions to prevent this continuing spectre.


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