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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1538

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:12): Born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger in the Bavarian region of Germany on 16 April 1927, Pope Benedict XVI will have served as the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church from 19 April 2005 until his forthcoming resignation, due to age and declining health, on 28 February 2013. Elected to the papacy three days after his 78th birthday, Pope Benedict was one of the oldest to have been elected to lead the church. He was ordained a priest in 1951—what a long time as one of the Lord's shepherds. Before he was elected to the papacy, he had hoped to retire peacefully. Instead, at the time he said:

At a certain point, I prayed to God, 'please don't do this to me'. Evidently, this time He didn't listen to me.

Of course, God works in many strange and mysterious ways. I believe that He certainly has a path for us all to follow. For Pope Benedict, that path was to the Holy See, to the papacy and to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics and what a fine, prayerful, spiritual and faith-filled job Pope Benedict XVI has done in that mission.

For Australians, Pope Benedict's years in the Vatican will be remembered for the canonisation of our very own Saint Mary of the Cross—or Mary MacKillop—on 17 October 2010. In canonising Saint Mary of the Cross, Australia's first Roman Catholic saint, Pope Benedict highlighted the affection he shared for the Australian nation. As the former Australian ambassador to the Holy See, former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, noted, the Pope gave many thoughts and prayers to Australian people, particularly in times of crisis and times of natural disasters—such as Black Saturday and our recent devastating flood events. In 2008, Pope Benedict visited Australia as part of World Youth Day in Sydney, which my daughter Georgina attended with a group from Mater Dei Catholic College and other high schools within the Catholic diocese of Wagga Wagga. I share the view of the Prime Minister regarding the captivation the crowds had with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit here.

It is important to note during this motion that the Pope made some progress in acknowledging what he called, in 2005, the 'filth' within the church, which must be recognised. It is my sincere hope for whomever succeeds Pope Benedict XVI that further progress can be made in acknowledging the shameful past unfortunately perpetrated by some—only some—within the church as far as sexual abuse, especially against children, is concerned. In addition, Benedict has done much to reach out to the world's poor and most-disadvantaged people in Africa and South America. He has set a shining example for the church's social justice obligations, which is something the Bishop of Wagga Wagga, Gerard Hanna, praised. Bishop Hanna, who met the Pope in both Sydney and Rome, told me:

He is a man who has written widely on ecumenism and renewing the impetus towards unity. He has opened inter-religious dialogue, and this is noteworthy. His Papacy, while relatively short, has been marked by his willingness to travel overseas to reach out to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

Bishop Hanna said that the Pope's decision to resign—the first since Pope Gregory XII way back in 1415, some 598 years ago—was 'bold and courageous'. 'His difficult decision to step aside due to ill health shows his remarkable leadership.' Bishop Hanna said:

He has re-established that in future Popes can follow suit, doing their best in the role until such a time as their health prevents them from continuing, and then allowing another Pope to be elected in their place. In future it will not be such an extraordinary measure to do this.

Further to this, Pope Benedict XVI also played a significant geopolitical role in encouraging negotiations towards an agreement on the use of cluster bombs, following in the footsteps of the geopolitical role his predecessor, John Paul II, played at the end of the Cold War. But for Catholics in Australia, Pope Benedict's resignation highlights the changing tradition in the papacy. When Joseph Ratzinger was first elected to the papacy, he pledged to be a 'simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord', and his custodianship of the church will be remembered for the attempts he made to reach out to the areas of the world where the church is growing, such as Africa and South America.

On behalf of the people of the Riverina electorate, the many Catholics in my electorate, I join other members in thanking Pope Benedict XVI for his exemplary, faith-filled, prayerful and strong leadership of the Roman Catholic Church since 2005 and wish him all the very best for the future.