Voices of dissent cast shadow over papal visit

The Pope is due to arrive in Australia tonight to beatify Mary MacKillop, a heroine of the pioneering outback, in a ceremony whose historic importance threatens to be overshadowed by dissent over his stand on women priests and birth control.

He will perform this first beatification of an Australian before an anticipated 250,000 crowd at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney tomorrow night.

The Pope will arrive from Papua New Guinea, where he called for an end to the civil war on the island of Bougainville and yesterday in Port Moresby beatified Peter To Rot, a Catholic instructor murdered by the Japanese during the Second World War.

But even before the Pope has kissed the tarmac at Sydney airport, divisions over his visit have erupted among Australia's 4.4 million Catholics, especially some women church leaders.

"I belong to the Roman Catholic tradition. I am also a woman," said Sister Veronica Brady, a Loreto nun and an associate professor of English at the University of Western Australia. "That is why I rejoice with the Josephine Sisters and with Australian women generally at the beatification of that brave, holy, determined, visionary woman, Mary MacKillop. But that is also why I do not rejoice at the papal visit."

MacKillop herself was a radical whose battle to set up an autonomous order of Australian nuns to help underprivileged people in the country's frontier regions has finally earned her a place on the path to sainthood.

Born in Melbourne in 1842, MacKillop founded the Institute of the Sisters of St Joseph, the Josephites, in the small South Australian town of Penola in 1866. The sisters eventually spread to some of the remotest towns of Australia and to New Zealand. Herdemand that the Josephites be a self-governing, national order answerable directly to the Pope was visionary for the time. But it put her in conflict with the male church hierarchy in Australia, and in 1871 she was excommunicated. She travel led to Rome, where the Vatican supported her stand, and the excommunication was lifted.

Sister Brady said: "In her day, the papacy was a source of inspiration and the Pope protected her from the unimaginative opposition of some bishops. The present Pope seems to have little sympathy for women and less sense of the challenges facing humanity."

The Pope will spend 36 hours in Sydney before travelling on to Sri Lanka on Friday.

n Port Moresby (Reuter) - A Filipino man armed with a fully loaded 15-round semi-automatic pistol was arrested after triggering an alarm on a metal detector as he tried to enter the Sir John Guise stadium where the Pope was to celebrate Mass.

Police said Perfecto Santos, 40, posed a serious threat.