Pope expecting large protests in Britain

10th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI is expecting large-scale protests during his visit to Britain next week in which officials said Friday he may meet 10 victims of sex abuse.

A coalition of protest groups angered at the widening sex abuse scandal engulfing the Roman Catholic Church is planning a major rally during the first state visit to Britain by a pope since the Reformation from September 16-19 but the Vatican said it was "not worried."

"The media echo is greater than the reality of the situation," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said during a briefing on the pope's trip.

Lombardi said "reliable polls that show a great interest (among Britons) in Pope Benedict XVI's visit."

"There are always demonstrations, even during other trips. In this particular case, the movement will be bigger because in the United Kingdom there are more atheist or anti-pope groups," Lombardi said.

"This is the normal climate of a pluralist society like Britain's."

Various anti-pope groups -- including rights activists, secularists, humanists and pro-abortion campaigners -- have formed a coalition called Protest the Pope and an anti-pope march is scheduled for September 18 at 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) in London from Hyde Park to Downing Street.

During the trip the pope could meet with 10 people who were victims of abuse by priests, said Jack Valero, spokesman of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

The venue for the meetings would likely be London, the spokesman told the briefing. The 10 victims, all of them British, would remain anonymous, he said.

Lombardi said he could not confirm that a meeting would take place during the visit.

"It's a possibility. I can't rule it out, but I can't announce it officially at this time," Lombardi said.

"The pope has already met with abuse victims, but (the meetings) were never announced. They come about in a discreet manner, because events of this kind should not be surrounded by hype that might not be appreciated by those taking part" in the meeting, Lombardi said.

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, on August 31 said that such a meeting, should it take place, would remain private and would not be announced officially.

Pope Benedict met with victims of abuse during his trip to Australia and the United States in 2008 as well as in Malta last April.

The church has been rocked by a string of recent abuse scandals involving priests, with revelations of the sexual abuse of minors and cover-ups in parts of Europe and North America.

On Friday the Belgian church released searing testimony gathered from victims of abuse, 13 of them had committed suicide.

In mid-July, the Vatican put in place tougher rules on the handling of sex abuse cases, saying it would accelerate internal investigations and extend by a decade the statute of limitations in such cases.

The trip to Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham is the first state visit by a pope since England's King Henry VIII broke with the church of Rome in 1534.

John Paul II in 1982 was the first pope to set foot in the country since the rupture, but the Vatican says that was a pastoral visit, thus not a state visit.

The cost of the visit, estimated at more than 20 million euros (25 million dollars) has also caused controversy in a country in which only about 10 percent of the population is catholic.

© 2010 AFP

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