Page last updated at 05:32 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 06:32 UK

Pope to apologise for sex scandal

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to reporters on his plane

Pope Benedict XVI has begun a nine-day visit to Australia, where he is due to apologise for decades of sexual abuse of children by priests.

As he began the longest foreign trip of his papacy, he said paedophilia was "incompatible" with being a priest.

Australian abuse victims have said they will hold protests during his visit.

Climate change will also be a leading theme at a major Catholic youth festival, World Youth Day, which the Pope is heading in Sydney.

The event is expected to draw some 200,000 young Catholics to the city.

But the six-day event has been overshadowed by the launch of an investigation into sexual abuse allegations.

The leader of Australia's Catholics, Cardinal George Pell, has come under criticism for his handling of a 1982 case allegedly involving the sexual abuse of 29-year-old man by a priest.

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney says that many victims want the Pope to directly criticise the Australian Catholic hierarchy for its handling of abuse allegations.

Lifestyle change

"It is essential for the Church to reconcile, to prevent, to help and to see guilt in this problem," Pope Benedict told reporters during his 20-hour flight to Sydney.

We have to face up to this great challenge... to change the situation of the environment for the good
Pope Benedict XVI

"It must be clear... that being a real priest is incompatible with this (sexual abuse) because priests are in the service of our Lord," he said.

As the Pope arrived in Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was "an honoured guest among us".

During his trip, the Pope will also meet Aborigine groups, and is likely to repeat an apology made by Pope John Paul to Australia's indigenous people for injustices carried out by Catholic missionaries.

He also told reporters he wanted to wake up consciences, to make politicians and experts respond to environmental issues.

"We have to face up to this great challenge and find the ethical capacity to change the situation of the environment for the good," said Pope Benedict.

But he made it clear he had no intention of addressing any specific political or technical questions about climate change.

Open-air Mass

The 81-year Pope's medical advisers have taken elaborate steps to protect his health during the gruelling 20-hour flight from Italy, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

A special sleeping compartment has been prepared on the Alitalia plane and the German pontiff will spend three full days resting at a Catholic study centre before appearing at the head of a Sydney Harbour flotilla on Thursday.

He was met by Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd on his arrival at Sydney airport.

Pope Benedict will close his trip by presiding over an open-air Mass on 20 July at Sydney's Randwick Racecourse, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.

The Pope's visit - his ninth outside Italy - has created controversy with demonstrators vowing to protest against the Church's stand on homosexuality and birth control.

In response, authorities in the state of New South Wales have introduced new laws bringing the threat of heavy fines to anyone causing annoyance to pilgrims.

Civil liberty groups have denounced such sanctions as unnecessary and repugnant.

In pictures: Pope in Australia
13 Jul 08 |  In Pictures
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