- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2008

SYDNEY, Australia | Pope Benedict XVI apologized Saturday for the sexual abuse of children by Australia’s Roman Catholic clergy, keeping up efforts begun in the United States to publicly atone for what he called evil acts by priests.

The apology did not satisfy representatives of the victims. They said it must be backed by Vatican orders to Australian bishops to stop efforts to cover up the extent of the problem and block attempts to win compensation.

“I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured, and I assure them as their pastor that I, too, share in their suffering,” Benedict said during Mass in Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

He said he wanted “to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt” and called for those responsible to be “brought to justice.”

He called the acts “evil” and a “grave betrayal of trust” and said the scandal had badly damaged the church.

The German-born pope has expressed regret before about the clergy abuse that has rocked the church in recent years — notably during a U.S. visit in April, when he met privately with a small number of victims. But the language of Saturday’s apology was stronger than his comments in the United States.

Ever since the pope’s trip to Australia was announced two years ago, victims’ groups here have been demanding he make an apology — something popes have historically been wary of doing.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the pope added the words that he was deeply sorry to the original text given to reporters because he wanted to “personally underline” that he felt close to the victims.

There was no immediate word whether Benedict would meet with victims of clergy abuse during his Australia trip, which ends Monday.

“It is just a drop in a bucket — a bucket full of tears that all of us who work with victims have been sitting with for 25 to 30 years in Australia,” Helen Last from the clergy-abuse support group In Good Faith and Associates said of the pope’s apology.

Anthony Foster, the father of two girls who say they were 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,” he said. “The practical response needs to include both financial help … and psychological help.”

Activists say the number of clergy abuse victims in Australia is in the thousands, though the exact figure is not known.

Associated Press writer Tanalee Smith in Sydney contributed to this report.