Staff and agencies
19 Jul 2008
Pope Benedict XVI today said he was deeply sorry for the suffering caused to victims of sexual abuse by clergy in Australia and perpetrators should be brought to justice.
The Pope said he wanted to acknowledge the "shame that we have all felt as result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy" in Australia.
He said the deeds of clergy responsible for abuse were a grave betrayal of trust that had caused great pain, had damaged the Roman Catholic church, and deserved unequivocal condemnation.
"I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured," he said. "These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. Those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice."
The Pope was speaking at a Mass attended by Australia's Roman Catholic bishops and seminarians.
Support groups for victims of church abuse in Australia, whose numbers are not known but who activists say are in the thousands, have demanded the Pope make a full and open apology for clergy abuse and do more to prevent abuse in the future.
Yesterday a small group of protesters, who have criticised the church's handling of the abuse scandal that has dogged it in recent years, gathered near St Mary's Cathedral, where the pontiff is staying. They waved placards reading "Hands off our kids" and "Clergy sexual abuse turns Christianity upside down".
The Pope has expressed regret before about the clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic church in recent years notably during a visit to the United States in April when he also met privately with a small number of victims. But the language of today's apology was stronger than the Pope's previous comments.
There was no immediate word whether Benedict would meet with victims of clergy abuse during his Australia trip, which ends Monday.
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.
During his visit he has spoken about the need to strengthen traditional Christian values including charity and chastity, and decried the selfishness and greed of today's "cult of material possessions".
Yesterday, the Pope told representatives of Islam and other faiths that they must unite to combat religion's role in "sinister and indiscriminate" violence.
Without mentioning terrorism directly, the pontiff said there were those who were using religion "as a cause of division rather than a force for unity."
The Pope also blessed the opening scene of a live reenactment of the stations of the cross - the Bible's depiction of Christ's last days - that was played out through Sydney, with some of the city's most recognisable landmarks in the backdrop.
Pilgrims lined the streets to watch the recreation, which stretched over three hours and included often stark scenes of brutality toward Jesus, including his being nailed to a cross.
Organisers estimated the live television audience for one of the festival's most dramatic events topped 500 million.