ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) _ Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday he wants to wake up consciences on climate change during his pilgrimage in Australia.
Benedict also told reporters while flying to Sydney to start a 10-day visit that he would work for "healing and reconciliation with the victims" of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy there "just as I did in the United States" earlier this year.
Less than an hour after the pope's flight took off from Rome, Benedict walked back to the section where journalists sat and met with them for about 15 minutes. He called on five journalists to ask questions that had been submitted to the Vatican earlier in the week.
One asked about climate change following discussions on the environment during this month's G-8 summit in Japan.
There is a need to "wake up consciences," Benedict responded. "We have to give impulse to rediscovering our responsibility and to finding an ethical way to change our way of life."
Benedict said that politicians and experts must be "capable of responding to the great ecological challenge and to be up to the task of this challenge."
"We have our responsibilities toward Creation," Benedict said, stressing, however, that he had no intention of weighing in on technical or political questions swirling around climate change.
Benedict said he would address the problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
He reiterated his view that sexual abuse is "incompatible with the behavior" required of priests. At the start of his U.S. pilgrimage, Benedict had said he was "deeply ashamed" of the abuse scandal and pledged to work to make sure pedophiles do not become priests.
Benedict acknowledged in comments to reporters Saturday aboard the plane that the Church in the West was "in crisis" but insisted it was not in decline. "I am an optimist" about its future, he said.
The Australia pilgrimage is the longest in his three-year-old papacy and will test the 81-year-old pontiff's stamina. Tens of thousands of young pilgrims are awaiting him in Sydney.
Although aides say the pope is in fine health, the Vatican appeared to be taking no chances to ensure Benedict is fit for the church's World Youth Day festival.
With little advance notice, it canceled Benedict's weekly public audience this past Wednesday as well as most other meetings to give him as much rest as possible.
It even put on hold a much-awaited audience with Ingrid Betancourt, who was recently freed after more than six years as a hostage in the Colombian jungles and expressed a desire to see the pope.
Upon the pope's arrival in Sydney after more than 20 hours of flying -- interrupted only by a 90-minute refueling stop -- he will spend three days resting in a Roman Catholic study center in Kenthurst, in the countryside outside Sydney.
After he succeeded John Paul three years ago, Benedict said he doubted he would make many long trips. But invitations keep coming in from world leaders and officials of his global 1-billion member flock.
Benedict himself has said that being pope is "really tiring" and, in an interview with German television in 2006, said he does not feel strong enough to take many long trips.
He visited Brazil last year, made a pilgrimage to the United States in April and will travel to France in September.
Benedict will be greeted at Sydney Harbor on Thursday by a group of Aborigines and other young people from the Pacific Basin and deliver what is expected to be an important address. In 2001, John Paul issued a formal apology to the indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands for injustices perpetrated by Catholic missionaries.
Australia's senior Catholic leader, Cardinal George Pell has been accused of badly handling a sexual abuse claim and this week agreed to reopen investigations into the 25-year-old case.
World Youth Day will culminate July 20 with an open-air Mass expected to draw some 250,000 pilgrims before Benedict heads back to Rome.
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