Pope apologises for Church sex abuse

19/07/2008 - 11:22

By Philip Pullella

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict on Saturday apologiseddirectly for the first time for sexual abuse of minors byCatholic clergy, but victims groups in Australia said theywanted action and not words.

The pope, making some of his most explicit comments on thesexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Church in severalcountries, also said unequivocally that those responsibleshould be brought to justice.

Benedict made a last-minute addition to his prepared homilyin St. Mary's Cathedral, adding one powerful and personalsentence -- using the word "I" three times -- the Vatican hadhoped would satisfy victims groups.

"Indeed, I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering thevictims have endured and I assure them that as their pastor Itoo share in their suffering," he said.

Acknowledging the "shame which we have all felt," he calledsexual abuse of minors an "evil" and added that "thoseresponsible for these evils must be brought to justice".

But minutes after he spoke, victims' groups said it was notenough and an anti-pope protest was held as some 250,000 youngpilgrims in Sydney for World Youth Day celebrations marched toa suburban racetrack for an evening prayer vigil with the pope.

"Sorry is not enough. Victims want action, not just words,"said victims' group Broken Rites, which has been pushing for anopen and accountable system of investigating abuse claims. Theysay the Church in Australia continues to try to cover up abuse.

"A remote apology does not carry anywhere near the weightas a personal, direct apology," said Anthony Foster, whose twodaughters were raped by a Melbourne priest.

"This is only an apology, it is only words, it doesn'tcommit all the resources of the Church to this problem ... heneeds to meet with victims and victim support groups tounderstand what is required," Foster said.


Around 1,000 protesters marched against Church teachings onsexual morality. Some chanted: "Pope is wrong, put a condomon," and threw condoms into the air as young pilgrims marchedacross the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge to the vigil site.

On pilgrim was arrested for punching an anti-pope protesterin the face.

The pope confronted sexual abuse in the Church in theUnited States during a visit there in April, meeting victimsand vowing to keep paedophiles out of the priesthood.

But his words in Australia were stronger than those he usedin the United States, where the biggest of the scandals brokein 2002 and where Boston Cardinal Bernard Law resigned indisgrace that year.

Bishops in the United States and elsewhere were discoveredto have moved clergy who had sexually abused minors from parishto parish instead of defrocking them or handing them toauthorities.

In the United States alone, dioceses have paid more than $2billion (1 billion pounds) to settle suits with victims,forcing some dioceses to sell off properties and declarebankruptcy.

The Catholic Church in Australia has paid millions ofdollars in compensation, but has capped individual payments totens of thousands of dollars, with many payments undiscloseddue to confidentiality settlements. Victims say they areinadequate.

After praying with the pope at the vigil the crowd of youngpeople prepared to spend the chilly night outdoors ahead of theculminating event of the celebrations -- a Mass on Sunday.

The 81-year-old pope, who appears to be holding up welldespite the long trip, leaves for Rome on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by AlexRichardson)