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Pope Apologizes For Sexual Abuse, Treatment of Aboriginals - 2001-11-22

Pope John Paul II broke with tradition Thursday, sending the bishops of the Pacific region a message via the Internet instead of presenting it to them in person.

In the message, he apologized for the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church towards aboriginals and for sexual abuse by priests.

For the first time during his more than 20-year papacy, the Pope sent a message using the Internet to bishops in Australia and islands in a vast area of the Pacific Ocean.

Now 81-years-old and frail in health, the Pope's doctors have been advising him to cut back on his activities for years.

Using technology of the 21st century to send his message to the bishops instead of flying to deliver it in person must have been an inevitable choice this time.

During a brief ceremony in the Vatican Thursday, the Pope signed the document, "Ecclesia in Oceania," then pushed a button on a computer sending his message via e-mail to all the clergy, religious and lay Catholics of the area.

The document covered the sensitive subject of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the treatment of aboriginals, who, the Pope said in his message, were subjected to "shameful injustices" in the past.

An apology was made for the part played by Church members, particularly - according to the Pope's message - "where aboriginal children were forcibly separated from their families."

At least 30,000 children of Australia's so-called "stolen generation" were taken away from their aborigine families and placed in the white culture, where it was assumed they would get a better education and upbringing.

Australian authorities pursued such efforts from the early 20th century to the 1970s.

But perhaps the most significant apology in the document from Pope John Paul was the one made to the victims of sexual abuse by priests.

In what appeared to be a reference to abuse of nuns by priests reported earlier this year in some parts of the developing world, the Pope wrote, "sexual abuse within the Church is a profound contradiction of the teaching and witness of Jesus Christ."