Pope Acknowledges the 'Shame'

By Sarah Price
Sydney Morning Herald
July 20, 2008

IT WAS much longed for and, when it came, Pope Benedict XVI's apology to victims of clerical abuse took everyone by surprise.

The lines of apology were not included in the text given to journalists before the Mass at St Mary's Cathedral but were added by the pontiff during his homily, to the joy of victims watching around the world.

Before 3400 guests, including cardinals, bishops, Australian seminarians, victims and pilgrims from around the world, he said: "Here, 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.

"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 and have damaged the Church's witness."

It had been widely speculated the Pope would use the Mass - held to dedicate the new altar at the cathedral - to address the issue which has dogged the Church and marred World Youth Day celebrations.

Pope Benedict XVI called on those assembled in the great cathedral to help their bishops and to "work together with them in combating this evil".

"Victims should receive compassion and care and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice," he said.

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

"In these days marked by the celebration of World Youth Day, we are reminded of how precious a treasure has been entrusted to us in our young people, and how a great part of the Church's mission in this country has been dedicated to their education and care."

The Pope said the Church had been addressing the challenge effectively. "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."

But Anthony Foster, whose daughters were raped by a Melbourne priest, said the words were meaningless unless they were accompanied by practical measures.

Mr Foster's daughter Emma committed suicide in January 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.

Mr Foster and his wife Christine cut short a European holiday and flew to Sydney last week in the hope of securing a meeting with Cardinal George Pell or the Pope. None has been forthcoming.

"It was just an apology, it just didn't offer anything practical," Mr Foster told The Sun-Herald after hearing the pontiff's homily.

"We needed the Pope to become personally responsible, to ensure that victims receive all the practical and emotional support they require. The apology was just words. It won't help victims."

Chris MacIsaac, president of victims support group Broken Rites, said the apology was appreciated but it should have been said directly to victims.

"The fact that he's deeply sorry, that's appreciated, but it would have been much more meaningful if he had had some victims there to represent all victims," she said.

"I think that that is where the whole thing is falling down.

"If you are to apologise for what you see as your responsibility for some grave action, I think you need to look the person you're apologising to in the eye."

Former priest and church commentator Dr Paul Collins said it was significant that the media - and therefore Catholics around the world - were left guessing as to what the pontiff planned to say.

"Italians and the Vatican particularly don't like people telling them what they're going to say," he said.

"They want to keep control of what's said, so I found it significant that they left the apology out and the Pope put it in at the right time."

Dr Collins said it was a "full and sincere apology".

"The serious question remains, what is the Church going to do about it," he said.

"The Pope has done the right thing and I think he's done as much as he can.

"He is a man who believes it is up to the local bishops to deal with it.

"There really needs to be a serious public commitment on behalf of all the bishops to stand up and simply say, we have not done this well in the past, we have tried, but we have not succeeded."

Frank Brennan, a Jesuit priest and professor of law at the Institute of Legal Studies at the Australian Catholic University, said the apology was important in Australia.

"From the Australian experience, with the Aboriginal apology, we know that victims of personal and institutional abuse desperately want to hear the word 'sorry' and the full acknowledgement of sorrow from those in the ultimate position of authority," he said.

"In the case of the Catholic Church, that of course is the Holy Father, and it is heartening that he has publicly said all that he could possibly say in his personal capacity and he's done it with compassion.

"Unlike the situation in the United States, where there was the opportunity for the local hierarchy to introduce His Holiness to victims of abuse, that did not happen here and thus it was all the more welcome that Benedict expressed not only his personal sorrow but gave the instruction to the local church that justice and due compassion be provided."

The consecration at St Mary's was the first time the Pope has dedicated an altar outside of Rome. When the three-hour dedication Mass ended, the pontiff lunched with bishops and members of the papal entourage at St Mary's Cathedral House.

He then rested before last night's vigil at Randwick racecourse.


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