|Ashamed Pope Benedict Apologises for Unspeakable Child Abuse Crimes As He Meets Victims
September 18, 2010
The Pope expressed his 'deep sorrow and shame' in a meeting today with five survivors of clerical sex abuse.
The Catholic Church said the Pontiff had met five victims at the home of the Vatican's Ambassador to the UK in Wimbledon, south west London.
'He was moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered,' a statement from the Holy See said.
'He prayed with them and assured them that the Catholic Church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people, and that it is doing all in its power to investigate allegations, to collaborate with civil authorities and to bring to justice clergy and religious accused of these egregious crimes.'
Bill Kilgallon, chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) said: 'They were understandably quite emotional at the prospect of meeting the Pope but looking forward to the opportunity to tell him about their experiences.'
Three of the victims who met the Pope in London this afternoon were from the Yorkshire area, one was from the capital and one from Scotland, the Church said.
But the sombre apology failed to dampen the mood of the tens of thousands of people who descended on London's Hyde Park tonight.
Thousands of people lined the Pope's route to the park. The vigil crowd watched on big screens as the Popemobile made its way slowly towards them.
There was an upbeat atmosphere with crowds treated to performances of music and dancing, as well as readings and prayers, and stories of hope.
Dancing nuns, singing priests and happy families all celebrated the visit, waving flags and banners, armed with picnic hampers, foldable chairs and prayer books.
The Pontiff stopped for a baby to be lifted to the window and blessed in a now familiar ritual.
The huge crowd moved forward as he arrived, the top of the Popemobile visible between banks of believers.
Hovering above a police helicopter kept watch. Children took to their parents' shoulders, with one youngster saying: 'Mummy, mummy, I see him, I see the Pope!'
The Pontiff took to the stage with camera flashbulbs lighting up across the crowd.
In the crowd, sister Maria Natella, 54, of St Dominic's Priory in Lymington, Hampshire, was moving to the music, beaming with happiness. She said: 'It's just amazing, I can't put it into words.
'To have the Holy Father here is a historic occasion. Every word he has spoken has been one of encouragement to Catholics and Christians.'
Earlier today the Pope apologised for the 'unspeakable crimes' committed by Catholic priests who sexually abused children.
Speaking during a packed service at Westminster Cathedral, he expressed his gratitude for the efforts being made to tackle the problem of child abuse among the clergy.
The service came after he met with Prime Minister David Cameron before the service as he began the third day of his UK tour.
During the service, the pontiff said: 'I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers.
'Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ's grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives.
'I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins.'
The Pope arrived at Archbishop House, behind Westminster Cathedral in central London, earlier this morning followed 15 minutes later by Mr Cameron.
It is the first time the two men have met since the Pope arrived in the UK as Mr Cameron was attending his father's funeral yesterday when the Pontiff addressed MPs in Westminster Hall.
During the meeting, the Pope presented Mr Cameron with three Papal gold coins. The Prime Minister gave the Pope a first edition copy of Cardinal Newman's Apologia, printed in 1864, and a newspaper cutting detailing a service that the cardinal gave in Edgbaston, Birmingham.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also arrived to meet the Pope this morning accompanied by his wife and children, followed later by acting Labour leader Harriet Harman.
Thousands of people gathered outside Westminster Cathedral to catch a glimpse of the Pope as he arrived and to celebrate mass.
The service was attended by former prime minister Tony Blair - a recent Catholic convert - and his wife Cherie.
Mr Blair stood to admire a long line of priests from England, Wales and Scotland who had gathered alongside the cathedral, preparing to celebrate the mass.
Several of the priests, who appeared in excitable mood, waved at the Blairs and pulled out pocket cameras to take photographs.
But an estimated 20,000 people took part in a march to Downing Street to protest against the Pope's state visit.
Campaigners held placards including 'the Pope is wrong - put a condom on' as they walked through central London.
They cite a number of grievances, including the Vatican's stance on gay rights, the use of contraceptives and the church's response to clerical sex abuse.
Among the protesters was human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
'The Vatican isn't a state, it is not recognised as a country by the UN.
'To give the Pope head of state status is wrong and to give him immunity against prosecution is wrong - no one should be above the law,' Mr Tatchell said.
Comedian Al Murray also figured among the crowd. He said: 'Like a lot of people I am perplexed that it is a state visit.
'The Pope's opposition to condoms kills people. It is all very well him lecturing us on morals but he should look at his own organisation's view.'
Speaking after her meeting, Harriet Harman said: 'I was very pleased to express the welcome to the Pope on his visit to this country as leader of the opposition and on behalf of the Labour Party.
'We talked about the many struggles for social justice that the Catholics and the Labour party have struggled on together. We talked about the challenges that still remain here and abroad.
'We reflected on the long, close connection between - and the leading role played by - Catholics in the Labour Party over many decades and I wished him well for the rest of his visit.'
The Pope arrived for the meetings in a blacked-out BMW rather than the specially designed Popemobile.
It comes as six men are still being questioned in police custody after they were arrested over an alleged plot to attack him.
Five street cleaners were arrested on Friday morning as armed officers swopped on a depot as they prepared to start their shift.
Hours later a sixth man was arrested at a home in north London.
Last night the Pope issued a call to defend Christianity, saying Christmas was at risk of being struck from the calendar.
In a strongly worded speech delivered in Parliament, the pontiff bluntly told politicians not to 'silence' religion and discourage public celebration of its most important festivals.
And in a thinly veiled attack on controversial equality legislation, he said laws which forced Christians to act against their conscience were wrong.
He said: 'There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere,' he told senior politicians and public figures.
'There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none.
'And there are those who argue - paradoxically, with the intention of eliminating discrimination - that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience.
'These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.'
Pope Benedict will later hold a prayer vigil in Hyde Park, before travelling to Birmingham tomorrow to hold another mass and for meetings with bishops from England, Scotland and Wales.
He will then fly back to Rome from Birmingham Airport.
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