Pope condemns child abuse on British visit (Second Lead)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

LONDON - Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Britain Thursday on an historic and highly controversial state visit that is expected to promote church unity while also being punctuated by protest and debate.

The scandal over child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic church and controversial remarks about Britain by a papal adviser have added to the tension surrounding the four-day visit.

Before he touched down in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, Thursday, the pope made one of his strongest admissions to date that the Catholic church had erred in its handling of the abuse scandal, Italian news media said.

Speaking to reporters on board the aircraft that took him to Britain, Pope Benedict said the revelations had for him come as “shock, a source of great sadness”.

“It is difficult to understand how such perversion was possible within the priestly ministry,” he said.

The church authority had not been “sufficiently vigilant and decisive in taking the necessary measures,” the pope said about the scandal, which has rocked the church in a number of European countries and the US.

Protest groups and victims in Britain have urged the pope to “make amends” to the sex abuse victims and to go “beyond an apology”.

The 83-year-old German-born pontiff is the first leader of the Roman Catholic church to pay on official — as opposed to pastoral — visit to Britain since Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534.

His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, made a pastoral visit to Britain in 1982, which was initiated an entirely financed by the church.

By contrast, the British taxpayer has been asked to foot most of the bill for the state visit by Pope Benedict, expected to cost up to 20 million pounds.

In Edinburgh, the pope was officially received at Hollyrood House Palace by Queen Elizabeth II, who is both British head of state and the titular head of the worldwide Anglican Church.

After commenting on the British weather and exchanging gifts, the queen stressed the “common Christian heritage” of Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

She also praised the role of the Holy See in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, and stressed the Vatican’s importance in combating poverty and climate change around the world.

Religions could never become “vehicles of hatred”, said the queen. “Never, by invoking the name of God, can evil and violence be justified,” said the monarch, 84.

The pope, in his response, paid tribute to Britain’s long Christian heritage, its fight against “Nazi tyranny” in World War II, and its respect for “fair-mindedness”.

But he also urged Britain to maintain respect for “traditional values” in the face of “more aggressive forms of secularism” in the country.

“The United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.”

The pontiff’s remarks, made in response to a welcoming address by Queen Elizabeth II, closely echoed the words of a top papal adviser, who had spoken of the spread of an “aggressive new atheism” in Britain.

“Britain today is a secularised, pluralistic country,” the 77-year-old cardinal was quoted as telling Germany’s Focus magazine. “When you land at Heathrow airport, you think at times you have landed in a Third World country.”

The controversial remarks by German Cardinal Walter Kasper have stirred tension in Britain ahead of the pope’s visit, from which Kasper was excluded in the last minute, allegedly on health grounds.

Meanwhile in Edinburgh, to the haunting tune of Scottish bagpipes and drums, thousands later lined the streets to greet the pope, as he toured the city centre in his Popemobile.

His white robe covered white Scottish tartan scarf, the pope waved to those who had turned out to see him, among them many schoolchildren who had been given the day off for the occasion.

Catholicism is traditionally stronger in Scotland than it is in England. There are some five million Roman Catholics in the whole of Britain, where the Anglican Church dominates with around 13.5 million believers in the Church of England.

Later Thursday, the pope was due to celebrate mass to an expected crowd of 80,000 at a park in Glasgow, Scotland’s second city.

He is due to visit London Friday and Saturday, before ending his stay Sunday with the beatification in Birmingham of Cardinal John Henry Newman, Britain’s most famous Anglican convert to Catholicism.

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