- VATICAN CITY (Reuters)
- Pope John Paul, in his first message sent to the world directly over
the Internet, has apologised to victims of sexual abuse by priests and
The apology, addressed among others to nuns in the developing world, was
contained in a long and wide-ranging document issued by the Pope summing
up the themes of a synod of bishops from Oceania that was held in the Vatican
"Sexual abuse by some clergy and religious has caused great suffering
and spiritual harm to the victims," the Pope said in a small part
of the 120-page document on Thursday.
For the first time in his 23-year-old papacy, the Pope sent the document
to churches around the world by pushing a button on a computer and despatching
it by email over the Internet.
"It (sexual abuse) has been very damaging in the life of the Church
and has become an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel," the
Pope said in the document.
Only one paragraph of the document was dedicated to sexual abuse. The document
ranged from subjects such as evangelisation and aboriginals, who he said
were subjected to "shameful injustices" by some members of the
Church in the past.
Still, the apology was important because it was the latest in a series
of times the Pope has asked forgiveness from those who had been hurt by
members of his Church.
In what appeared to be a reference to the sexual abuse of nuns in parts
of the developing world, the Pope said:
"Sexual abuse within the Church is a profound contradiction of the
teaching and witness of Jesus Christ," he said.
"The synod fathers wished to apologise unreservedly to the victims
for the pain and disillusionment caused to them".
He said the Church in Oceania was seeking what he called "open and
just" procedures to respond to complaints.
The Church he said also was "unequivocally committed to compassionate
and effective care for the victims, their families, the whole community
and the offenders themselves."
Last March, the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), a major U.S.-based Catholic
weekly, ran a series of stories on internal reports in the Vatican about
the sexual abuse of nuns and other women by priests and bishops around
The Vatican acknowledged that the problem existed.
The internal reports said some priests and missionaries had forced nuns
to have sex with them, and had in some cases committed rape and forced
the victims to have abortions.
The reports cited cases in 23 countries, including the United States, the
Philippines, Ireland and Papua New Guinea.
The author of one of the internal reports was nun and physician Maura O'Donohue,
who presented it to the head of a Vatican department in February 1995.
The Vatican ordered a working group to study the problem with O'Donohue.
O'Donohue made specific reference to certain cases, one in which a priest
forced a nun to have an abortion, after which she died. He then officiated
at her funeral.
Last July, some 150 Catholics protested at the Vatican's United Nations
mission, demanding an independent commission to investigate alleged violence
against nuns by priests.
In a petition to the Pope they sought punishment for priests who engage
in violence and reparations to victimised nuns.
In the NCR story, a former Canadian nun said the church did nothing after
she was raped by her supervisor, an Irish priest, during a retreat in Durban,
South Africa, in April 1985.
The woman, who had been a nun for 24 years at the time, said her superiors
imposed a gag order on her after the rape.
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