Pressure for Pope apology down-under

IN DEPTH: More on World Youth Day

VIDEO: Pell under fire

While the Sydney event is designed as a celebration of Catholic youth, victims' rights groups say the Pope must use it to acknowledge that many young people's lives have been ruined in Australia by paedophile priests.

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The call comes after the pontiff made a historic apology for the actions of child-abusing clergy in April during a visit to the United States, where the church also faces a long-running sex scandal.

Australian bishops issued an apology for past abuses in 2002 and the country's senior Catholic leader, Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell, has said papal comments on the issue would be “a welcome contribution.”

Pell was this week forced to deny allegations he tried to cover up allegations of sex abuse against a priest dating back to 1982 in a scandal he admitted came as an embarrassment days ahead of the Pope's July 13-21 stay.

Apology “not enough”

Broken Rites, a support group for victims of church-related sexual abuse, said a papal apology alone would not be enough.

The group's president Chris MacIsaac said they were not interested in “lip service” because previously victims have found the church's attempts to deal with the problem inadequate.

“There's been no real acknowledgment of the victims,” she said. “The culture of the church seems to be more concerned with minimising scandal rather than dealing with this very serious crime.”

MacIsaac suggested that the controversially large budget for World Youth Day would draw attention to the discrepancy in fairness for victim pay-outs.

“It just highlights the hypocrisy of the church. Here they are spending millions on World Youth Day when the sex abuse victims are paid 25,000 dollars (23,500 US) on average, even though their lives have been ruined.”

Broken Rites says that 107 Catholic priests and religious brothers have been sentenced in Australian courts on sex charges.

But it believes many more cases have gone unreported or have never made it to court because the victims have taken their complaints to the church instead of the police.

Former bishop Geoffrey Robinson, appointed by the church in 1994 to investigate sexual abuse over nine years, has since retired and written a book last year on the issue.

“Sexual abuse of minors by a significant number of priests and religious (office holders), together with the attempts by many church authorities to conceal the abuse, constitute one of the ugliest stories ever to emerge from the Catholic church,” he said.

More research needed

Robinson said the church needed to research the reasons why priests abused minors and ask bishops worldwide to examine the extent of the problem in their countries.

“Until basic steps such as these are taken, I find it impossible to believe that church authorities are determined to confront, rather than simply manage, the problem,” he said.

But Pell defended the Australian church's response to the issue of abusive priests within its ranks.

“We're not proud,” he said. “We faced up to it — I think pretty well –for quite some time now.”