The Pilgrims’ Congress

The Pope is in Sydney, celebrating World Youth Day along with a couple hundred thousand (not all quite so) young Roman Catholics from around the world. It’s a huge event for the city, although much of the attention focuses on road closures and infrastructure challenges while the event lasts. I won’t be going in to watch him. Mainly because it’s not worth the hassle, and of course I’m hardly Catholic either, although I hope that the throngs of Christians have a good time here.

Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, of course. And several not so pope-friendly people are using the opportunity to point out some of the darker sides of the Catholic Church. One of the more ingenious (and very Aussie) ideas was T-shirts with the inscription “The Pope touched me down under”.

This highlights one of the main battles of the church in recent years: the sex abuse scandals involving Catholic priests. I wouldn’t suggest that the Church actually condones such behaviour, but the handling has probably come short. What struck me today was the news report of the Pope’s meeting with PM Kevin Rudd, and his commending of Australia’s recent apology to the aboriginals: “Thanks to the Australian Government’s courageous decision to acknowledge the injustices committed against the indigenous peoples in the past, concrete steps are now being taken to achieve reconciliation.”

These are bold words from a man who has yet to formally apologise for the sex abuse by Catholic clergy. No, Ratzinger did not to my awareness personally abuse anybody. I’m not saying that he did. But the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church is such that the pontiff should acknowledge responsibility and offer an unambiguous apology, not just the “regret” he has so far expressed. If nothing else, it would be a wise communication strategy to do so.

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