19 Jul 2008

Pope apologizes for Church sexual abuse in Australia

Vancouver Sun - July 18, 2008

by Michael Perry | Reuters

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict apologized on Saturday for sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Australia, saying those responsible should be brought to justice.
"I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured," the pontiff said in a homily in Sydney.
"These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation," he said. "Those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice."
The comments are believed to be the first time the pope, who was elected in 2005, has specifically apologised for sexual abuse by clergy in his Church and states clearly that abusers should be brought to justice.
The pope confronted the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States during a visit to Washington in April, meeting victims and vowing to keep paedophiles out of the priesthood.
But the pope's words in Australia were stronger than those he used in the United States, where the biggest of the scandals broke in 2002 and where Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in disgrace that year.
Bishops in the United States and elsewhere were discovered to have moved clergy who had sexually abused minors from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or handing them to authorities.
In the United States alone, dioceses have paid more than $2 billion in settlements of suits with victims, forcing some dioceses to sell off properties and declare bankruptcy.
Victims of church abuse in Australia have been calling on the pope to issue a public apology during his visit to Sydney for World Youth Day, July 15-20.
They have also called on the pope to implement an open and accountable system of investigating abuse claims. They say the Catholic Church in Australia continues to try and cover-up abuse.
"Sorry is not enough. Victims want action, not just words," said victims' group Broken Rites after the papal apology.
Broken Rites says there have been 107 convictions for church abuse in Australia, but that there could be thousands of victims as only a few cases go to court.
Sexual abuse by Catholic clergy has overshadowed the pope's visit to Sydney, with the Church reopening a 25-year-old abuse case in Australia only days before the pontiff arrived.
Benedict said abuse by clergy had damaged the Church.
"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," he said during a mass inside Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral.
"I ask all of you to support and assist your bishops and to work together with them in combating this evil. Victims should receive compassion and care..."
The Catholic Church in Australia has paid millions of dollars in compensation, but has tried to cap individual payments to tens of thousands of dollars, with many payments undisclosed due to confidentiality settlements.
Victims say the compensation payments are inadequate.
"As the Church in Australia continues ... 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," said Benedict.
(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Sydney; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
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