FROM BRUCE JOHNSTON IN ROME
TillPOPE has used an official document to apologise for wrongs committed within the Church in Australia, New Zealand and other parts of Oceania, including sexual abuse by priests.
In his first message to dioceses ever to be sent out via the internet, he also strongly condemned such practices in more general terms.
In addition, he recognised the wrongs of missionaries and Church members in the past in Oceania, including "shameful injustices" which he had said had been done to the Aborigines.
The 117-page document, entitled Ecclesia in Oceania (The Church in Oceania), was a summary of the wide-ranging themes of a synod of bishops from Oceania held in Rome in 1998.
In it, the Pope called sexual abuse within the Church a "profound contradiction of the teachings of Christ".
"The Synod Fathers," he added, wished to "apologise unreservedly to the victims for the pain and disillusionment caused to them".
"The Church in Oceania is seeking open and just procedures to respond to complaints in this area, and is unequivocally committed to compassionate and effective care for the victims, their families, the whole community, and the offenders themselves," the Pope said.
Although the apology was no more than a paragraph tucked away at the the end of document, it was important since it was the latest admission of Church wrongs to be pronounced by the Pope.
Rocked by widespread sex abuse scandals, particularly among priests and teaching brothers in Catholic schools, the Church in Australia apologised to victims five years ago.
This was shortly followed by moves by the Church there to ban local clergy from having any private contact with children, including by having confessionals fitted with glass viewing panels.
Traditionally, post-synodal documents, like Ecclesia in Oceania, are delivered by the Pope in person, during a visit to the continent in question.
While John Paul II pointed the way forward for his Church when he pressed a computer button at a Vatican ceremony last week, sending the document out as an e-mail, the Pope was unable to travel in person to the continent.
"I would have wished to visit Oceania once again. in order to present the fruits of the Synod's work," he said in the document. "But it was not to be! Therefore the Pacific comes to the Bishop of Rome."