Abuse Victims' Parents Await Papal Apology

By Vincent Morello
Canberra Times
July 18, 2008

Without a public apology from the Pope, the Catholic Church will never give effective help to victims of abuse by clergymen, the father of two girls raped by a Melbourne priest says.

Anthony Foster and his wife Christine flew into Sydney yesterday for World Youth Day after cutting short a holiday in London.

The couple said they were worried by a "back-pedal" by Pope Benedict XVI on a public apology for victims of sexual abuse by priests.

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

O'Donnell died in prison about 10 years ago, and the Fosters have accused the Catholic Church of stalling their compensation claim, which was eventually settled out of court after an eight-year legal battle.

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.

A papal spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, said yesterday that Australians should "stay tuned" on the issue of a papal apology.

He would not confirm speculation the Pope would refer to Australian sex abuse cases during his visit, although the pontiff strongly suggested during his flight to Australia that he would issue an apology.

Mr Foster said the Pope must publicly apologise and agree to meet him, his wife and community groups that supported sexual abuse victims.

"We're not searching for apologies for our family or ourselves," Mr Foster said.

"What we want is action for the victims that remain.

"I would expect that the Pope would understand that we have good knowledge of the effects of sexual abuse and that we would be a very good resource for them to start to understand what they need to do."

Mr Foster said anything less than a public apology would hinder a way forward.

"I can't really understand why they're back-pedalling on that," he said.

"We need an apology and we need action.

"And if he [the Pope] doesn't do that and there isn't some good action, then the situation becomes worse because it further exacerbates the pain and suffering that the victims have to go through."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said yesterday a papal apology to victims of sexual abuse was strictly a matter for the Church.

"I'm hopeful that the church authorities handle each of these matters individually and sensitively," he said.

"The Church over time has been moving in response to each of these matters as they come into the public domain, and you would say sometimes better than others.

"But it's very important for the church to respond to each individual case."

Mr Foster criticised World Youth Day coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher, who when questioned about his family's case accused people of "dwelling crankily ... on old wounds".

Mr Foster labelled the bishop's comments as "disgusting, given that our daughter only died six months ago".

"It's incredibly insensitive," he said. "I really wonder about the credibility of the man to hold the position he does both in the Church and in World Youth Day."

World Youth Day chief operating officer Danny Casey said Bishop Fisher's comments were directed solely at the media and not at abuse victims or support groups.

"Bishop Fisher in his commentary on how some in the media seek to portray the Church about abuse matters shouldn't in any way suggest he's a man lacking compassion," Mr Casey said.

"I know he's a man who feels deeply, a great degree of compassion, for the victims of abuse and indeed all those who have been hurt."


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