THE Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, has apologised to "those who have suffered at the hands of fellow Christians" in his first Christmas message since the federal government announced a royal commission on child sex abuse.
Cardinal Pell, who said last month that the royal commission would help decipher real claims from "significant exaggeration", did not address the sex abuse claims directly, but said he felt the "shock and shame across the community at these revelations of wrongdoing and crimes".
"My heart will go out to all those who cannot find peace at this time, especially those who have suffered at the hands of fellow Christians; Christian officials, priests'' and teachers, he said.
Apology ... Cardinal George Pell. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
"I am deeply sorry this has happened. It is completely contrary to Christ's teachings.''
Cardinal Pell has defended the church's handling of paedophilia in its ranks and its rules exempting priests from having to report admissions of sexual abuse made in Confession.
In his Christmas message, he said people needed faith "in God's goodness and love to cope with these disasters, to help those who have been hurt".
"The light of Christ shines through this darkness … It offers strength and healing to every person who suffers," Cardinal Pell said.
The Uniting Church's Reverend Brian Brown, moderator for the Synod of NSW and the ACT, used his Christmas message to lay down a political manifesto, including a reduction in Australia's order of new submarines from 12 to nine.
The $9 billion saved should be reinvested in education, health and housing, Dr Brown said.
He called for a change of course in a world "hell-bent on slow cooking itself", a reference to global warming, and intent on "fracking the bedrock of civil, respectful society" - an oblique nod to coal seam gas mining.
Dr Brown lamented figures showing that 80 per cent of housing services had "no room at the inn" and were unable to meet demand.
In a wish list, he called for the withdrawal of $12 billion in subsidies and incentives to fossil fuels and the introduction of a "humane system" of processing asylum seekers.
He also urged the NSW government to resist pressure to expand Boxing Day trading to ensure retail workers had two days off over Christmas.
The reward, he said, would be "a healthy planet and community, along with the joy of knowing that we are living ethically - doing to others as we would have them do to us".
The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, described Christmas as a time for reconciliation with God, neighbours and indigenous Australians.
Dr Jensen said Christmas also posed an opportunity for people to reconcile fractured relationships.
"Christmas is a great time to fix up the feuds and quarrels and hatreds which divide us. Sometimes we need to make good the fault, to pay back, to apologise, to repair, to mend," he said.
"Sometimes, justice means that we take the hurt on ourselves and simply forgive the other person without demanding recompense."