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 CNS Story:

POPE-ABUSE Jul-20-2008 (960 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope apologizes to Australians for 'betrayal' of clergy sex abuse

A woman protests against clergy sexual abuse at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney July 18. The next day the pope apologized to Australian victims of abuse during a Mass at the cathedral. (CNS/Reuters)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

SYDNEY, Australia (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI said he was "deeply sorry for the pain and suffering" endured by Australian victims of clerical sexual abuse.

Describing the abuse as "so grave a betrayal of trust," he said it deserves "unequivocal condemnation."

Pope Benedict offered the apology July 19 during a Mass in St. Mary's Cathedral with Australia's bishops and representatives of the country's priests, religious, seminarians and novices.

During the Mass, the pope consecrated the Sydney cathedral's new altar, slathering it with oil and censing it before it was covered with a white cloth and adorned with candles and a crucifix for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In his homily, Pope Benedict used the new altar as a symbol of the renewed dedication to Christ and the church that he said he hoped was under way by Australia's Catholic community and by each of its members, especially priests and religious.

After the pope went to the United States in April, met with victims of clerical sex abuse and repeatedly spoke of the church's sorrow and shame over the cases and over its failure to protect all children, Australian victims and some bishops began publicly expressing the hope he would do the same during his July 13-21 stay in their country.

On the flight from Rome to Australia, the pope said he would speak about the problem in Sydney because "being a priest is incompatible with this behavior," which has shaken the church in Australia as it has in the United States.

During the U.S. trip, the pope also met privately with some victims of clerical abuse; as of midday July 20 such a meeting had not taken place in Sydney, but Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, did not exclude the possibility of a meeting before the pope was to leave the morning of July 21.

"I cannot give the final word until the doors of the plane are closed," he said.

Retired Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, former head of a church panel for dealing with the crisis, has estimated the number of Australian victims as being more than 1,000.

The president of the Australian bishops' conference, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, told Pope Benedict at a July 19 luncheon after Mass, "The terrible scandal of sexual abuse carried out by some clergy, religious and church personnel and the way these issues were addressed in the past has had deep and lasting consequences.

"Holy Father, I can assure you that we are all making every effort in our response to cases of sexual abuse, with compassion and care for victims," Archbishop Wilson said.

In his homily, Pope Benedict said he wanted "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."

And, in an addition to his prepared text, he said, "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," the pope said. "They have caused great pain and have damaged the church's witness."

Pope Benedict asked the priests and religious to cooperate with the bishops "in combating this evil" by implementing programs designed to protect children, screen church employees and volunteers and to ensure that those who have abused children are never given another opportunity to do so.

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

Before the Mass began, Peter Zwaans, a 27-year-old Adelaide seminarian, said it was appropriate for Pope Benedict to address the issue publicly.

"It is certainly a public issue, so there is no reason not to speak about it," he said. "This can be a wonderful opportunity to reaffirm that sexual abuse and scandal have no place in the church."

Paul Nulley, a 20-year-old seminarian from the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, said most accusations refer to sexual abuse that took place decades ago.

"I think the sexual abuse crisis happened because priests weren't praying," he said.

Australia's seminaries today put a strong emphasis on training future priests who are prayerful and healthy, he said, by ensuring the staff includes specialists in psycho-sexual development, spiritual directors and "companions," whom the students can talk to about any problems or tensions they are facing.

Several people who identified themselves as victims or relatives of victims of clerical sexual abuse were in a park near the cathedral after the pope read his apology July 19.

John Ellis, a Sydney resident, said he was abused by a Benedictine monk from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s.

"I was pleased to hear the (pope's) words that he was deeply sorry, but it's difficult to believe he understands the depth of the issue," Ellis said.

He added that he would like to have been invited to be present in the cathedral when the pope made the apology.

He also said the repeated acknowledgments during the papal visit of the suffering of Australia's Aborigines and the respect shown to them was precisely how he would have liked to have been treated as a victim of clerical sexual abuse.

Christine Foster, the mother of two girls raped by a Melbourne priest in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said, "We want to make sure the pope hears how much victims suffer."

The priest who raped her daughters died in prison; one of the girls committed suicide and the other, who began drinking heavily, was left disabled after being hit by a car.

- - -

Editors: Contributing to this story was Paul Haring.


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