Opposition frontbencher Tony Abbott says that Pope Benedict risks being seen but not heard by a "relentlessly secular" Australia during next month's visit for World Youth Day.
In an article to be published in Saturday's Australian, Mr Abbott writes that reaching out to Australia's disillusioned Catholics should be the Pope's primary task during his July visit to Sydney, and apologising to the victims of sexually predatory clergy a secondary aim.
Mr Abbott says that if the Pope "leaves Sydney without tackling the malaise of the Church, people will feel cheated and World Youth Day will have been a failure".
Mr Abbott warns that it appears the Pope will not have the chance to talk to the wider mass of Australians during his visit since no nationally broadcast interview has been scheduled for World Youth Day, nor the sort of question and answer session that followed the Pope's recent address to US bishops.
"He will undoubtedly be seen (in Sydney), but may not really be heard," he writes.
"Reluctance to expose an iconic figure to the challenges of bolshie priests (let alone to the barbs of Kerry O'Brien or Tony Jones) is entirely understandable but their audiences are the people who need to be inspired or at least impressed if Australians are to take religion as seriously as they should."
Mr Abbott, the Opposition's spokesman on family and community services and indigenous affairs, separately told The Australian that he personally was not looking for the Pope to apologise to Australian victims of sexual abuse.
"There's a sense in which it's so obviously an abomination that it hardly needs to be said," he said.
"In the end, I think what people are wanting, are hoping for, from this visit is a sense that this is a pope who speaks our language, as it were, who understands what's going on in our souls, who appreciates that this is not an age that is naturally given to religious faith, and can meet us where we are, rather than simply talk at us as some religious teachers seem to."
Apology not Pope Benedict's main aim: Tony Abbott (The Australian, 13/6/08)