By Rohan Sullivan
Monday, July 14, 2008
SYDNEY, Australia, July 13 -- Pope Benedict XVI has raised expectations that he will apologize directly to victims of clergy sexual abuse while he is in Australia this week for a Roman Catholic gathering of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
The leader of the church told reporters during a 20-hour flight to Australia for a nine-day visit starting Sunday that he would do everything possible to achieve "healing and reconciliation with the victims" of maltreatment by priests.
Activists in Australia, who have demanded that the pontiff make a formal apology to victims to help cool the scandal that has dogged the church in recent years, cautiously welcomed his comments. Still, they said he should go further and stop the church's opposition to compensation claims.
Senior clerics organizing the World Youth Day festival in Sydney this week have avoided using the word "apology" to describe remarks Benedict is expected to make about the problem of clergy abuse, but they have made clear there will be some expression of regret.
Benedict touched down Sunday at a military air base on the outskirts of Sydney, where there is a growing buzz about the festival as pilgrims flood into the city for the largest public event since the 2000 Olympic Games.
He was greeted on the tarmac by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and other government and church officials, although Sunday's arrival was relatively low-key, with crowds kept away from the base.
The pontiff was then whisked by motorcade to a retreat in the city where he will stay out of the public eye until Thursday, when he will ride by boat through Sydney harbor to a wharfside venue and address a large crowd.
During the flight from the Vatican, Benedict told reporters he would work for "healing and reconciliation with the victims" of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in Australia "just as I did in the United States."
At the start of a U.S. visit earlier this year, Benedict said he was "deeply ashamed" of the abuse scandal and pledged to work to make sure pedophiles do not become priests. He held a private meeting with a group of abuse victims.
Bernard Barrett, a spokesman for the victims' group Broken Rites, said Benedict's comments did not go far enough.
"He made some general remarks about regret to reporters, and that's not good enough," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "We want action, not words."
"The pope must apologize for the way his Australian bishops have covered up sexual abuse. The pope must tell his Australian bishops to stop blocking victims' access to justice in the civil law courts," he said.