Pontiff apologizes for abuse by clergy
Wants offenders to be punished
SYDNEY - Pope Benedict XVI apologized yesterday to victims of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, describing the acts of offenders as "evil" and a grave betrayal of trust.
"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," Benedict said during an address at a Mass in Australia.
"I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured," the pope said. "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."
Support groups for victims of church abuse in Australia, whose numbers are not known but who activists say are in the thousands, had demanded the pope make a full and open apology for clergy abuse and do more to prevent it.
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.
There was no immediate word on whether Benedict would meet with victims of clergy abuse, as he did during his trip to the United States in April, when he also expressed his shame for the scandal.
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 are those who using religion "as a cause of division rather than a force for unity." He made the comments during a 40-minute exchange with Australian Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders in Sydney.
"In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity," Benedict told the leaders, gathered in Australia's largest Roman Catholic cathedral as part of the youth festival. Harmony between religion and public life is especially important in these times, he said.
The Vatican has been trying to cool lingering anger among Muslims over a speech Benedict gave in 2006 that appeared to associate Islam with violence. Benedict quickly apologized for the link.
In reply, the delegates from the other creeds welcomed the pope's inclusionary stance, though Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem of the National Imams Council of Australia noted that discrimination between faiths was still a problem.
Muslims should be more understanding of other religions, he said, adding, "At the same time, a significant amount of the Christian groups and other religions must overcome their prejudice to Muslims and Islam."
Yesterday's meeting was part of a busy schedule for the 81-year-old pontiff at World Youth Day, which organizers say has attracted more than 200,000 young Catholics to Australia's largest city. Two days into his four-day official program, the pope looked fit and energetic.
Benedict, who last week said his church was in "crisis" in the West because of many had lost faith in God, held a separate meeting with deputies of Christian denominations.
He urged them to cooperate against secularism and apathy, saying those shared problems were greater than any differences among them.
"I think you would agree that the ecumenical movement has reached a critical juncture," he told the Christian representatives. "We must guard against any temptation to view doctrine as divisive and hence an impediment to the seemingly more pressing and immediate task of improving the world in which we live."
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 landmarks in the backdrop. Pilgrims lined the streets to watch the three-hour re-creation on a clear but cold midwinter day. Later today, the pope was to celebrate a public Mass to conclude youth festival events.
Benedict met later with a group of disadvantaged youth at a Catholic university campus, where he decried "the cult of material possessions."
A small group of protesters who have criticized the church's handling of the abuse scandal gathered for a demonstration yesterday near St. Mary's Cathedral, where the pontiff is staying.