Pope Sorry over Sex Abuse, Victims Want More

Special Broadcasting Service
July 19, 2008

[with video]

A "deeply sorry" Pope Benedict XVI issued a landmark apology to thousands of Australians sexually abused as minors by clergymen, but disappointed victims said they wanted much more than words.

The Pope's apology, on the eve of his concluding mass for half a million pilgrims attending the Catholic Church's World Youth Day (WYD) in Sydney, went further than a similar apology in the US earlier this year.

Pope Benedict delivers an apology to victims of sex abuse.

The Pope not only called for care and compassion for victims but said the perpetrators of the "evil" of church-related abuse should be brought to justice urgently for their "grave betrayal of trust".

Advocacy groups acknowledged the Pope's "heartfelt" statement and hoped it would mark a turning point in the church's widely criticised handling of the issue.

But they also called for more practical help, describing words as "just another drop in a bucket full of tears" and saying they were meaningless unless the church overhauled its compensation policy.

The Pope's apology cleared the decks for a spectacular finale at Randwick racecourse tomorrow to what has been a triumphant first visit to Australia for the 81-year-old pontiff.

But the pain and passion aroused by such a sensitive issue will remain when he flies back to Rome on Monday, and some victims are sceptical that his words will lead to meaningful change in the attitude of the church in Australia.

Acknowledge the shame

Pope Benedict departed from his prepared homily to include the apology as he consecrated the altar of St Mary's Cathedral.

"Here I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we ave all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country," he said.

"Indeed, I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering.

"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.

"Those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice," he told an audience of 3,400 people, including Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell, bishops, seminarians, and religious and school groups.

"It is an urgent priority to promote a safer and more wholesome environment, especially for young people."

There are no official figures, but support groups estimate there are thousands of Australian victims of clergy abuse.

The pontiff had signalled his intention to apologise as he flew from the Vatican to Australia last Sunday.

More detail

But his words were more detailed than his remarks in Washington in April, when he said he was "deeply ashamed" of sex abuse committed by American clergy and pledged to do whatever possible to stop it happening again.

The issue has been simmering in the background of otherwise festive WYD celebrations in Sydney.

The leader of the Catholic church in Australia, Dr Pell, was drawn into controversy twice in recent weeks.

In the face of claims he misled abuse victim Anthony Jones, Dr Pell admitted his "letter to Mr Jones was badly worded and a mistake".

Mr Jones today said the Pope's apology would be meaningless unless the church overhauled its compensation policy.

"Victims are treated with a lack of compassion, they're put through total bastardry in court," Mr Jones said.

"I've been fighting them in the courts for at least six years and you just get nowhere."

Pell scandal

Further scandal confronted Dr Pell this week, when he was forced to intervene after WYD coordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher accused some victims of "dwelling crankily" on old wounds.

Bishop Fisher was being questioned about the case of Melbourne sisters, Emma and Katherine Foster, who were raped by priest Kevin O'Donnell, who died in prison 10 years ago.

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.

Their parents, Anthony and Christine Foster, have accused the Catholic Church of stalling their compensation claim, which was eventually settled out of court after an eight-year legal battle.

Abuse victim comments

Mr Foster today said he was disappointed by the papal apology."They are only words, the same thing we've been hearing for 13 years," he said.

"There is nothing practical there which is what we were looking for."

He said there should be financial and psychological help for the victims.

"In Melbourne, the cardinal limited the compensation to $50,000 yet in our case the church later offered a much greater amount because we were someone who had the ability to negotiate," he said.

"Those who don't have the ability to negotiate fall in the gutter and they are kept there by the church."

Dr Pell has defended his actions in relation to the Fosters, saying he had apologised and offered financial help, as well as counselling, which Emma had availed herself of for 10 years.

Chris MacIsaac from victims support group Broken Rites was doubtful the apology would lead to real change within the Australian church.

"I don't think anybody would be too confident if they had witnessed 16 years of mismanagement of this issue," she said.

'Drop in a bucket'

Helen Last, spokeswoman for advocacy group In Good Faith and Associates, said: "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.

"So it's not really a hands-on response is it? It's just a few words from the CEO."

Morris Iemma, the staunchly Catholic NSW Premier, said he hoped the apology would "be a turning point in righting the wrongs of the past".

Father Brian Lucas, general secretary of the Australian Bishops Conference, said he hoped the Pope's words would spur an end to "this great tragedy".


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