Protests As Pope Apologizes for Sex Abuse Crimes

Monsters and Critics
September 18, 2010

London - Pope Benedict XVI Saturday delivered his strongest condemnation yet of the child sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church as more than 10,000 people demonstrated in London against his official visit to Britain.

During a mass celebrated in London on his four-day state visit to Britain, the 83-year-old German-born pontiff expressed his 'deep sorrow' to the victims of abuse by priests, which he denounced as 'unspeakable crimes.'

His remarks came as critics of the papal visit, and victims of child abuse, marched through central London, accusing the pontiff of 'protecting paedophile priests.'

Emotions ran high on the third day of the pope's visit Saturday, with both supporters and critics of the Roman Catholic Church making their views forcefully known.

As the demonstrators, among them victims of abuse, human rights campaigners and gay rights groups, wound their way along Piccadilly, in the centre of the British capital, up to 80,000 people were gathering in Hyde Park for a prayer vigil with the pope.

The pope's condemnation of the child abuse scandal, which has rocked the Catholic church in many European countries and the US, came during a mass celebrated in Catholic Westminster Cathedral Saturday.

'Here, too, I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the church and by her ministers,' the pope said in his sermon.

'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.'

The pope went on to acknowledge the 'shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins' and expressed his gratitude for the efforts being made to address the problem responsibly.

'I ask all of you to show your concern for the victims and solidarity with your priests,' he said, in what Catholic commentators described as the pontiff's strongest words yet on the scandal.

'It was a good apology, he seemed to really mean it, he was genuinely sorry,' said Martin Brown, a 34-year-old Englishman who had come to listen to the pope.

But the demonstrators offered a different view.

'The pope keeps apologizing for the failings of everyone but himself,' said gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, a co-organizer of the protests.

Sue Cox, a 63-year-old Briton who said she was herself a victim of clerical sex abuse, also dismissed the apology, and warned that the Vatican would 'not get away with overlooking clerical sex abuse.'

'We will continue to watch and shout out and work towards change. This is not over,' she said.

Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society in Britain, said he was overjoyed at the large number of protestors.

'The days of popes are over. We are no longer listening to religious leaders - we get our morality from other places,' he told the crowd.

Earlier Saturday, the pope met for private audiences with Prime Minister David Cameron and other political leaders.

Church sources said that at his meeting with Cameron, the pope told the British leader that he had been praying for his father, Ian, who died while on holiday in France week, and whose funeral took place Thursday.

The pontiff also met Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader, and Clegg's Spanish wife, Miriam, who is a Roman Catholic, as are the couple's three young boys.

Multilingual Clegg, who has described himself an atheist, spoke to the pope in Benedict's native German to discuss European cooperation and the lessons to be learnt from '20th century war and destruction' in Europe, his spokeswoman said.

The pope also received Harriet Harman, the acting leader of the opposition Labour Party.

Meanwhile, Scotland Yard continued Saturday to question six men, all said to be of North African origin, who were arrested Friday on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack on the pontiff.

However, police said nothing had so far been found to substantiate the allegations made against the men, who were employed as street cleaners in an area of central London visited by the pope.

The pope's itinerary has not been affected and security measures, already high, have not been stepped up as a result.

'We had information we could not ignore. It was too much of a risk to let these men run. We had to act,' a senior police source is quoted as telling the Times Saturday.

The pope ends his four-day state visit to Britain Sunday with the beatification in Birmingham of Cardinal John Henry Newman, Britain's most famous 19th century convert to Catholicism.

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