Demonstrators have rallied in Australia to show their opposition to the Pope's visit to Sydney for next week's World Youth Day. They are angry at what they call the Pontiff's bigoted views on contraception and homosexuality. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Activists held a small but noisy demonstration outside the New South Wales state parliament in Sydney to voice their disapproval of Pope Benedict XVI's stance on contraception, abortion and homosexuality.
The NoToPope Coalition includes members of Australia's atheist, gay and environmental communities as well as left-wing political groups.
They plan to hand out condoms to pilgrims at the height of World Youth Day festivities next week. Tens of thousands of young Catholics from around the world are expected to attend next week's events in Australia's biggest city, which Pope Benedict will attend.
NoToPope Coalition spokeswoman Rachel Evans says activists want to make their point peacefully.
"The coalition is not anti-religious. We have Christians in our midst," she noted. "We want to support the Catholics For Condoms, which is a group in the U.S. We want to support the Rainbow Sash, which is the group of homosexuals within the Catholic Church. We're not anti-Catholic youth. We want to talk to them about these issues so that they can go home and talk to the people in their areas, in their churches about these issues and what Australian young people are saying to them."
World Youth Day is an event to celebrate the Roman Catholic faith. It was started by Pope John Paul II in 1984 and is observed internationally every two to three years in different countries.
For many young pilgrims the event is an uplifting opportunity to connect with the Catholic faith and celebrate the visit of Pope Benedict to Australia. About a quarter of Australia's population is Catholic.
For commuters and residents of Sydney, World Youth Day promises to be a headache with widespread traffic disruptions, which will cost taxpayers millions of dollars for security and traffic control.
Commuters and the event's organizers, however, are likely to be glad that trade unions have abandoned plans to stage a rail strike in Sydney next week over pay. A strike could have caused chaos during the World Youth day celebrations.
In the build-up to the event, there have been unwanted distractions for the Australian Catholic Church hierarchy.
Sydney's Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, recently denied claims he covered up sexual abuse by a priest that came to light five years ago. The cardinal says he has done nothing wrong and stresses that he hopes the issue will not divert attention from World Youth Day.
Pell has said he expects Pope Benedict to express regret for sexual abuse committed by priests in the past. Cases of sexual abuse, some going back decades, have been a major issue for Catholics, especially in countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, where dozens of priests have been prosecuted.