13 Jul 2008

Pope to apologise for sex abuse in Australia

6:57 pm on 13 July 2008

Pope Benedict arrived in Sydney on Sunday afternoon for an international Catholic youth festival and promised to apologise for a sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church in that country.

In a message to young Australians at the start of his eight day trip, the Pope urged them to look to God for the answers to their deep questions about the meaning of their lives.

At a news conference on the plane taking him to Australia, the Pope said he would make similar comments to those during a trip to the United States in April.

Then, he made apology for sexual abuse a major part of his visit, meeting victims and vowing to keep paedophiles out of the priesthood.

There's a call for the Pope to include New Zealanders in the apology.

The Christchurch-based Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust says abuse in New Zealand must be recognised.

Australian bishops issued an apology for past abuses in 2002.

However, the Pope's visit to Australia has been overshadowed by the launch of an investigation into sexual abuse allegations.

The leader of Australia's Catholics and Sydney's archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, is under criticism for his handling of a 1982 case reportedly involving the sexual abuse of minors by a priest.

Earlier he told reporters that everything possible would be done to prevent a recurrence of Australia's sexual abuse crisis and to promote healing among the victims.

Victims say the Catholic Church in Australia continues to cover up abuse by clergy despite issuing an apology for past abuse and compensation. Some plan to protest during the visit.

Pope's arrival

Dressed in his customary white robes and red shoes, the 81-year-old Pontiff was applauded as he stepped onto the tarmac at Richmond RAAF base, on Sydney's north-western outskirts, shortly after the plane landed at 3pm (AEST).

Pope Benedict extended both hands to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the pair exchanged greetings.

He was then welcomed by a representative of the office of the Governor General, before shaking hands with NSW Premier Morris Iemma and other officials.

Dr Pell, kissed the Pope's ring and shook his hand before other church leaders followed suit, some genuflecting.

After the low-key welcome, the Pontiff was briefly ushered inside a building at the RAAF base, flanked by Mr Rudd, for what commentators described as a "meet and greet" session with members of the clergy.

His motorcade, including ambulances, buses and police cars, left the base just before 3.30pm, bound for a retreat near Sydney.

He will rest there for several days ahead of the six-day event celebrating the Catholic faith aimed at young people.

The Pope's first public appearance will be at the head of a Sydney Harbour flotilla next Thursday.

The event will culminate on 20 July in an open-air mass at Randwick Racecourse, which is expected to attract more than 500,000 people, including about 125,000 international pilgrims.

Text messages

Telstra has launched a telecommunications precinct in Hyde Park to allow pilgrims to receive daily text messages from the Pope and upload prayers to giant screens.

More than 540km of fibre optic cable will beam WYD event broadcasts to about 200 countries, with an estimated audience of one billion people.

Eight temporary base stations will be erected to allow young pilgrims to send text messages to family and friends.

Four giant digital "prayer wall" screens will be at the Sydney Opera House, the Domain, Darling Harbour and Randwick Racecourse.