Pope Apologizes for Sexual Abuse in Australia

By Tim Johnston
New York Times
July 19, 2008

SYDNEY — Pope Benedict XVI, in Australia to celebrate the Catholic Church's World Youth Day, publicly apologized on Saturday for the sexual abuse of children by members of the Church here and called for the perpetrators to be "brought to justice."

"I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country," he told a congregation that included a large number of seminarians and novices thinking of taking up offices in the Church. "These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. They have caused great pain and have damaged the Church's witness."

Last week, an Australian news program raised questions over the way the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, had handled allegations of sexual abuse leveled against a priest.

In 2003, Cardinal Pell had written to the alleged victim to say that he was dismissing the claim, partly because there were no other similar accusations. But on the same day that Cardinal Pell wrote to the victim, he wrote to another victim of the same priest upholding a different claim of abuse.

Cardinal Pell has since said that his letter dismissing the claim was "badly worded and a mistake" and that there was no attempt at a cover up.

In his address Saturday, the pope said "Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice."

The pope's comments echo a similar apology he made to Catholics in the United States.

During a visit in April, the pope said he was "deeply ashamed" of the abuse that had been committed by the clergy and said that he would do anything in his power "so this cannot happen again in the future."

One of the driving motives of World Youth Day is to assist in the reinvigoration of the Catholic Church, and the pope said that repairing the damage caused by the sexual abuse scandal was part of a larger project.

"As the Church in Australia continues, in the spirit of the Gospel, to address effectively this serious pastoral challenge, I join you in praying that this time of purification will bring about healing, reconciliation and ever greater fidelity to the moral demands of the Gospel," he said.

World Youth Day will culminate in a service to be held Sunday at Sydney's central racecourse, where the pope is expected to celebrate mass in front of a congregation estimated to number 500,000.


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