Pope Apologizes for the 'Evil' of Clergy Sex Abuse in Australia

July 19, 2008

SYDNEY, Australia - Pope Benedict XVI made a forthright apology Saturday to victims of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in Australia, calling the mistreatment evil and a grave betrayal of trust that has disgraced the church.

Victim support groups said they wanted more _ a commitment from the pontiff to stop what

they allege is an ongoing cover-up of the scale of the problem and for the church to stop fighting compensation claims in the courts.

«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 ... in this country,» Benedict told Australian bishops and other seminarians at a Mass.

«I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them as their pastor that I too share in their suffering,» he said.

«Those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice.

Benedict expressed regret about the abuse scandal that has rocked the church in recent years during a visit to the United States in April, but the language he used Saturday was much stronger.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the pope changed the original text, adding the words that he was deeply sorry because he wanted to «personally underline» that he felt close to the victims.

«It is just a drop in a bucket _ a bucket full of tears that all of us who work with victims have been sitting with for 25 to 30 years in Australia,» said Helen Last from the victims' group In Good Faith and Associates.

Anthony Foster, the father of two Australian girls who were allegedly raped by a Catholic priest as children, has been publicly seeking a meeting with Benedict during his visit. He said senior church officials had repeatedly apologized but offered no practical assistance to victims.

«What we haven't had is an unequivocal, unlimited practical response that provides for all the victims for their lifetime,» Foster said, adding the response «needs to include both financial help and psychological help.

Activists say victims of church abuse in Australia number in the thousands. The group Broken Rites has documented more than 100 cases in which clergy of all Christian denominations have been sentenced for abuse crimes.

The pontiff is in Australia to lead hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in the church's World Youth Day, a global celebration meant to inspire a new generation of Catholics. They welcomed the apology.

«I think it's a good gesture, but the person who is responsible for these actions should be made responsible for their own actions,» said Daniel Bidinger, 25, of Schoden, Germany. «The church should be open about it and shouldn't cover up these incidents.

Of the abuse, Benedict said, «These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. They have caused great pain, they have damaged the church's witness.

Meanwhile, more than 500 anti-pope activists faced off against happy pilgrims Saturday, shouting their distaste at the Vatican's opposition to abortion, contraception and homosexuality as thousands of Roman Catholic youth streamed past on their way to an evening address by the pope.

The burlesque, boisterous protest and march was in sharp contrast to the solemnity of the Mass in a cathedral where the pope spoke.

Inflated prophylactics floated above the crowd as demonstrators _ some dressed as nuns, others as devils and some in priests' robes _ chanted, «The pope is wrong, put a condom on

The young Roman Catholics passing by were at first merely curious, then smiled and waved and began their own singsong chant that carried down the ranks: «Benedicto! We love you

The two crowds became testy at one point, and police _ who ringed the protesters on horses, bicycles and on foot _ grabbed and led away one protester who had been throwing condoms toward pilgrims.

Benedict joined more than 100,000 pilgrims who camped out at a horse racetrack in Sydney. As they waved candles and sat on their sleeping bags, the pope stressed the importance of their faith.

«From the forlorn child in a Darfur camp, or a troubled teenager, or an anxious parent in any suburb, or perhaps even now from the depth of your own heart, there emerges the same human cry for recognition, for belonging, for unity,» Benedict said.

He will return to the track on Sunday to lead a Mass marking the culmination of the World Youth Day festival.

Papal apologies have been few in the long history of the church, mostly confined to correcting historical errors such as condemning Galileo for maintaining that the Earth is not the center of the universe.

But Benedict has also apologized for remarks he made in 2006 that linked Islam to violence, triggering widespread Muslim outrage. His predecessor made several apologies, including asking forgiveness for the sins of Catholics through the ages, including wrongs inflicted on Jews, women and minorities.


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