- (Photo: AP Images / Gregorio Borgia)
- (Photo: AP Images / Mark Baker)
SYDNEY, Australia - Pope Benedict XVI used some of the strongest language yet in his apology Saturday for the sexual abuse of children by Australia's Roman Catholic clergy, but his words were just more of the same for the victims.
The pope said he was "deeply sorry" for the sexual abuse, delivering a strongly worded apology that described their acts as evil and a grave betrayal of trust.
"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 an address at a Mass at the church's World Youth Day in Sydney.
"Those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice," he said.
The pope said the scandal had badly damaged the church.
"These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation," he said. "They have caused great pain, they have damaged the church's witness."
Anthony Foster, the father of two Australian girls who were allegedly raped by a Catholic priest, said he was disappointed that the apology 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."
Support groups for victims of church abuse in Australia, whose numbers are not known but who activists say are in the thousands, say the church covered up of the scale of the problem and fought compensation claims lodged in civil courts.
"Sorry is not enough. Victims want action, not just words," the Broken Rites group said in a post on its Web site.
"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," said Helen Last from the victims' group In Good Faith and Associates.
Benedict has expressed regret before about the clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the church in recent years — notably during a visit to the United States in April when he also met privately with a small number of victims.
But the language of Saturday's apology was stronger than the pope's comments in the United States.
Vatican spokesman 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 during his Australia trip, which ends Monday. Foster has said he wants a meeting with the pontiff during the trip.
The pontiff is in Australia to lead hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in World Youth Day, a global celebration meant to inspire a new generation of Catholics. They welcomed the apology.
"I think it's a good gesture, but the person who is responsible for these actions should be made responsible," said Daniel Bidinger, 25, of Germany. "The church should be open about it and shouldn't cover up these incidents."
During his appearances in Australia, Benedict has spoken about the need to strengthen traditional Christian values including charity and chastity, and decried the selfishness and greed of today's "cult of material possessions."
About 500 people protested against the Vatican's policies opposing contraception, abortion and homosexuality, holding a contest for the T-shirt that would most annoy Roman Catholics and chanting: "The pope is wrong, put a condom on!"
The boisterous protest at a square in the city's center included inflated condoms floating above the crowd and some participants dressed as nuns and priests. There were speeches supporting sex education and safe sex practices.
Police on horseback and on foot patrolled the protest. Police led away a protester who had thrown condoms at pilgrims.
Papal apologies have been few in the church's long history, mostly confined to correcting historical errors such as condemning Galileo for maintaining that the Earth is not the center of the universe.
But Benedict also said he was "deeply sorry" regarding remarks on Islam he made in Germany in 2006 that linked the religion to violence and set off a fury across the Muslim world.
Some cardinals resisted Pope John Paul II's plan for a sweeping apology timed for the new millennium in 2000. But he went ahead, asking forgiveness for the sins of Catholics, including wrongs inflicted on Jews, women and minorities.
Benedict joined more than 100,000 pilgrims who camped out at a horse racetrack in Sydney. As they waved candles and sat on their sleeping bags, the pope stressed the importance of their faith.
"From the forlorn child in a Darfur camp, or a troubled teenager, or an anxious parent in any suburb, or perhaps even now from the depth of your own heart, there emerges the same human cry for recognition, for belonging, for unity," he said.
He will return to the track on Sunday to lead a Mass marking the culmination of the World Youth Day festival. A crowd estimated at more than 200,000 is expected.
Associated Press writer Tanalee Smith contributed to this report.