VATICAN CITY -- With a tap on a laptop, Pope John Paul II for the first time sent out his official word over the Internet, apologizing Thursday for missionary abuses against indigenous peoples of the South Pacific.
Bishops and their flocks in Oceania -- Australia, New Zealand and scattered South Sea islands -- had hoped John Paul would come in person to deliver the message. But his doctors have been pressing him for years to slow down.
The pontiff shows symptoms of Parkinson's disease, including a hand tremor and slurred speech. Since hip surgery in 1994, he has had difficulty moving about.
John Paul visited Oceania in 1986. But this time he decided to use Internet because Oceania's dioceses are so far apart, the Vatican said.
Sitting at his laptop computer in the frescoed Clementine Hall, where popes have been receiving VIP visitors for centuries, the 81-year-old pontiff seemed a bit wistful about not making a return journey.
"I would have wished to visit Oceania once again," he said before sending the message on its way. "But it was not to be."
The bishops of Oceania had been waiting for the pope's message since 1998, when they met with him at the Vatican.
Church's past sins
John Paul has devoted much of his 23-year papacy to asking pardon for the church's past sins, including those against Jews and other Christians.
"The church expresses deep regret and asks forgiveness where her children have been or still are party to these wrongs," John Paul wrote. "The past cannot be undone, but honest recognition of past injustices can lead to measures and attitudes which will help rectify the damaging effects for both the indigenous community and the wider society."
He also noted that Oceania's bishops have apologized for sexual abuse by some clergy.