Pope apologizes for 'evil' of clergy sex abuse in Australia

"I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured," Benedict XVI tells bishops and other seminarians at a Mass.

Pope Benedict 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Pope Benedict 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Pope Benedict XVI apologized Saturday to victims of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in Australia, describing their acts as evil and a grave betrayal of trust that has disgraced 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 ... in this country," Benedict told Australian bishops and other seminarians at a Mass. "I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured. I assure them as their pastor that I too share in their suffering," he said. "Those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice." Benedict has expressed regret before about the clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the 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 Saturday's apology was stronger than the pope's comments in the United States. There was no immediate word whether Benedict would meet with victims of clergy abuse during his Australia trip, which ends Monday. Anthony Foster, the father of two Australian girls who were allegedly raped by a Catholic priest as children, has been publicly seeking a meeting with Benedict during his visit. He said he was disappointed the pope's remarks repeated the church's expressions of regret, but offered no practical assistance for victims. "What we haven't had is an unequivocal, unlimited practical response that provides for all the victims for their lifetime," Foster said. "The practical response needs to include both financial help ... and psychological help." Support groups for victims of church abuse in Australia, whose numbers are not known but who activists say are in the thousands, accuse the church of covering up the scale of the problem and fighting compensation claims lodged in civil courts. 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. Benedict 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." He said Saturday the clergy sexual abuse scandal had badly damaged the church. "These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. They have caused great pain, they have damaged the church's witness." Meanwhile, about 300 people protested Saturday against the pope for what they called his antiquated and discriminatory views, holding a contest for the T-shirt that would most annoy Catholics. The burlesque, boisterous protest at a square in central Sydney was in sharp contrast to the solemnity of the Mass at a nearby cathedral where the pope spoke a short time earlier, and came as tens of thousand of pilgrims marched through the city toward the venue of an evening vigil. Inflated prophylactics floated above the crowd as demonstrators - some dressed as nuns and others in priests' robes - chanted, "The pope is wrong, put a condom on!" The "most annoying T-shirt" competition was judged by the crowd who signaled their votes with applause and cheering. The winning entry was a crude reference to Mary, Christ's mother. The runner-up bore the slogan, "So many right-wing Christians, so few lions." Police on horseback and on foot patrolled the site, but there were no signs of trouble. For a couple of hours later Saturday, Benedict will join pilgrims who will camp out at a horse racetrack in Sydney. He will lead a Mass on Sunday before an estimated crowd of more than 200,000 that will mark the culmination of the World Youth Day festival.