Pope's apology must be backed by action

NORTH Coast victims of sexual assault are hoping an apology from Pope Benedict XVI will be the first step to preventing further abuse in the Catholic Church.

Anthony Jones, who lives near Nimbin, was abused by a priest in 1982 and is the centre of an internal investigation into how Sydney's Cardinal George Pell dealt with his complaint.

“They say a journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step, and I think the Pope apologising is the first step,” Mr Jones said.

“For the Pope to acknowledge victims of sexual assault, their pain, suffering and mental torture is only the first step.

“It has to be translated into the local church. In the past, the local church has been inactive. In my case I complained four days after I was assaulted and I found out 20 years later the priest I complained to hadn't even spoken to the priest who abused me.”

Mr Jones said that another internal investigation would not help solve the problem of abuse.

“Unless the church becomes proactive, Pope Benedict's apology is totally meaningless,” he said. “The church shouldn't be investigating themselves, they should bring the police in straight away. Internal inquiries are showing cover-ups, as in my case.”

Ballina sexual abuse victim Marlene Burgess hopes the Pope's apology will help her step out of the 'black hole' she has been in since she was abused by a Catholic priest on the Northern Rivers as a child.

However, she said it would also bring up a lot of bad memories for sexual abuse victims around the country.

“I hope it helps a lot of people,” Ms Burgess said. “As a Catholic woman I went into a lot of shock from all of this, seeing a side of the church I didn't want to know about. If people are spiritually guided enough, this apology will help them to move on, I hope.”

Ms Burgess, who was subjected to sexual abuse by a Northern Rivers Catholic priest and beatings by a nun when she was a schoolgirl, was featured in The Northern Star in June, when she called for the Pope to personally meet with her to apologise.

“I wrote to him (the Pope) and told him I'm afraid and that I just want to reconcile with the church,” Ms Burgess said.

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