Pope Benedict XVI apologized Saturday for the sexual abuse of children by Australia's Roman Catholic clergy, keeping up efforts begun in the U.S. to publicly atone for what he called evil acts by priests.
The apology did not satisfy representatives of the victims. They said it must be backed by Vatican orders to Australian bishops to stop alleged efforts to cover up the extent of the problem and block attempts to win compensation.
“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 in Mass in Sydney's St. Mary's Cathedral.
He said he wants “to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt” and called for those responsible to be “brought to justice.”
He called the acts “evil” and a “grave betrayal of trust” and said the abuse scandal had badly damaged the church.
The German-born pope has expressed regret before about the clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the church in recent years – notably during a U.S. visit in April when he also met privately with a small number of victims. But the language of Saturday's apology was stronger than his comments in the United States.
Ever since the pope's trip to Australia was announced two years ago, victims' groups here have been demanding he make an apology – something popes have historically been wary of doing.
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 of clergy abuse during his Australia trip, which ends Monday.
The pontiff is in Australia to lead hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in the church's World Youth Day, a global celebration meant to inspire a new generation of Catholics.
About 500 people protested in the city center against the Vatican's policies opposing abortion, contraception and homosexuality. They held a rally, a march and a contest for the T-shirt that would most annoy Roman Catholics.
At the boisterous demonstration, inflated condoms floated above the crowd and some participants dressed as nuns and priests. They listened to speeches by activists supporting sex education and safe sex practices, and chanted: “The pope is wrong, put a condom on!”