Pope Visit Uk: Thousands Turn out to Protest against Pontiff

By Patrick Sawer
The Telegraph
September 18, 2010

[with video]

Organisers of the event, Protest the Pope, said they wanted to voice anger at the Pontiff's stance on a variety of policies, including homosexuality, the ordination of women, contraception and the church's response to clerical sex abuse.

They claimed that 11,000 took part in the march, which ended at a rally outside Downing Street, although police were unable to confirm the figure.

As thousands of Catholic pilgrims gathered in nearby Hyde Park for an evening prayer vigil led by the Pope, the protesters chanted provocative slogans and brandished placards – many designed to deliberately offend – reading: "Pope's opposition to condoms kills people", "Keep the Pope out of women's' reproductive rights" and "the Pope ... But wear a condom".

Among the marchers were a wide range of groups, including gay and lesbian Catholics, child abuse survivors, atheists and anti poverty campaigners. Organisers said the turnout was five times greater than expected.

Sue Cox, 63, who was molested by a priest on the day before her Catholic confirmation at the age of 10 and, three years later, raped by the same cleric, told the marchers of her anger over the Pope's visit.

"We've been called a soulless, spiritually barren country, compared revoltingly to Nazis because we don't choose to believe in the man made strictures of a closed and dark society," she said.

"Well I've experienced nothing but love, compassion, grace, dignity and support from every single one of you and those are my values.

"The only thing I experienced from the Catholic church are pain, anger, disgust, lies and shame."

Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner, criticised the Pope for obstructing police investigations into paedophile priests.

He said: "The Pope's apologies do not ring true. Even today he is refusing to hand over Vatican files he holds under lock and key. Priests who sexually abused children should be brought to justice and the church should do its bit."

Calu Lema, a Columbian-born graphic designer who works in London, said that, as "a tax paying lesbian", she opposed the state visit.

She said: "The Pope has a right to come here and people have a right to come and hear him.

"But why should I, as a lesbian taxpayer, pay for his state visit when he is opposed to women's rights to contraception, opposed to gays and gay marriage and opposed to human rights?

"I respect the rights of Catholics to their faith, but they should respect my rights."

Jonathan Jones, 28, from Brighton, said: "Its amazing. I only expected a couple of thousand. It shows the strength of feeling in this country against the Pope's visit.

"Like a lot of people I object to the Catholic church obstructing police investigations into paedophile priests."

Holding aloft a banner reading: "Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings", Mr Nicholls said: "I'm not against religion, but government should be secular so that all religions are protected."

Organisers and police had kept the march away from the thousands of pilgrims flocking into Hyde Park for the open-air service, but a small group of protesters assembled there to greet them with taunts and shouts.

One man held a placard with a picture of the Pope above the heading: "Boss of world's largest sex abuse gang", while others brandished posters accusing the Pontiff of tolerating Holocaust deniers in his church and sheltering paedophiles.

From early afternoon, hundreds of people lined the route the Pope would take through Hyde Park into the vast arena erected for the prayer vigil.

Inside, giant screens showed films about the church's work around the world and the testaments of those who find hope in its teachings.

Among the pilgrims waiting for Pope Benedict's arrival were 100 worshippers from Sacred Heart church in Ruislip, including Theresa Hennessy, 50 and her brother Eugene, 56, and sister Caroline Key, 40.

Theresa said the visit would help transform perceptions of the papacy.

"The fact he came over and was very open about the issue of child abuse – admitting it should have been dealt with sooner – has had a real impact," she said.

"We've also seen his warmth with people, such as the children he's picked up and kissed. That's changed people's view of the Pope."

In the crowd flags of many nations were flown. Worshippers formed long queues at the many refreshment stalls. Others laid out picnics, relaxing in the warm evening sunshine.

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