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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tired Pope Tackles Women's Role

SYDNEY -- A tired-looking Pope John Paul II on Thursday put a maverick 19th-century Australian nun, banished by Catholic Church leaders of the time, on the road to sainthood, but also reaffirmed his opposition to women priests and "the evils of abortion."

On his second day in Australia, the conservative Pope outlined during an open-air mass the church's views on the family and the role of women.

Almost 200,000 people turned out at a Sydney racetrack to attend the beatification ceremony of Mother Mary MacKillop, who has been a focal point for feminist groups within the church.

Beatification is the penultimate step before sainthood in the church. An Australian woman who is said to have been cured from leukemia after praying to MacKillop was in the crowd.

The Pope, 74, recovering from bone replacement surgery, looked tired as he neared the end of his grueling 11-day Asia-Pacific tour, which has included the Philippines and Papua New Guinea and will end Saturday in Sri Lanka.

At his engagements Thursday, the Pope walked slowly with his cane and seemed to be fatigued when standing.

He was lifted onto the back of the racetrack stage by a forklift truck, unable to walk up the 30-odd steps at the front.

"He's O.K.," said chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, adding that the Pope had been eating regularly and sleeping "fairly regularly."

The Pope also looked tired at a meeting with Prime Minister Paul Keating, which touched on Australia's ethnic diversity, tolerance and support for the family.

But despite the apparent fatigue, the Pope strongly reaffirmed the Catholic Church's controversial positions in his two addresses. He condemned abortion and threats to the family during the beatification mass for MacKillop, who died in 1909 after founding an order of nuns to provide education to Australian children, regardless of their class.

He said part of the modern church's mission was "defending life against the evils of abortion and euthanasia, by encouraging strong family life in the face of old and new threats to its stability ..."

Addressing nuns at a meeting in Sydney's cathedral, he said society misunderstood the Catholic Church's position on women, insisted their most important role was motherhood and indirectly reaffirmed a ban on women priests.

"It must be clear that the church stands firmly against every form of discrimination which in any way compromises the equal dignity of women and men," he said.

He said he was "convinced that a mistaken anthropology is at the root of the failure of society to understand church teaching on the true role of women."

The church's anthropological argument says women and men should be equal in dignity but should play different, complementary roles in society, particularly in the family.

The role of women was "in no way diminished but is in fact enhanced by being related in a special way to motherhood -- the source of new life -- both physical and spiritual," he said.

The Pope said there was a pressing need for people to understand that the role of women in the family, society and the church had to be "faithful to the truth of the gospel." This was an indirect reaffirmation of the Catholic Church's long-standing ban on women priests.

The Catholic Church says women cannot become priests because Jesus willingly chose only men as his apostles. It rejects arguments that this merely reflected prevailing social customs.