Pope meets abuse victims, condemns 'unspeakable' crimes

18th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI met clerical abuse victims on Saturday and condemned the "unspeakable crimes" of paedophile priests as thousands of protesters demonstrated against his state visit to Britain.

The Vatican said the pope met the five victims in London and was "moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow over what victims and their families had suffered".

Earlier, the pontiff expressed his "deep sorrow" to abuse sufferers in one of his clearest public statements yet on the abuse scandal which has sent shockwaves through Catholicism.

In a mass at Westminster Cathedral in London on the third day of his visit, the pope said the priests had brought "shame and humiliation" on the Church and caused "immense suffering" to victims.

"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," he said.

Thousands of protesters opposed to the pope's stance on the abuse, gay rights, contraception and a host of other issues marched through central London ahead of an open-air prayer vigil the pontiff was to give for an expected 80,000 pilgrims in Hyde Park.

A coalition of protesters united under the "Protest The Pope" banner chanted "Shame on the pope" and waved placards saying "Pope's opposition to condoms kills people" and "Pope -- male chauvinist pig".

Meanwhile, police continued to question six men detained by counter-terrorism officers on suspicion of plotting an attack linked to the visit.

The Vatican played down the arrests, saying it had "never attributed much importance" to them.

After the meeting with the victims at the Vatican's embassy in London, a Vatican spokesman said the pope prayed with them "and assured them that the Catholic Church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people".

But abuse victims taking part in the protesters' march rejected the pope's expresssion of sorrow as "inadequate" and claimed the Vatican continued to cover up the scandal.

Sue Cox, 63, who was sexually abused by a priest from the age of 10, said: "They need to open their secret files to the authorities, to independent scrutiny, and start making amends to all those people they've damaged."

The pope has previously met with victims while on visits to Malta, the United States and Australia.

Police were still quizzing six street cleaners, aged 26 to 50, employed to clean the Westminster district of London, where the pope spent much of Friday and Saturday. Reports said the men are Algerian.

Detectives were searching private and business premises around London but no dangerous materials were found in initial searches.

The pope is "very calm" and "no one felt threatened" by the situation, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

Security remained tight on Saturday, with police closing key roads in the capital along the route the popemobile will take to Hyde Park.

The 83-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church started the day by meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron and expressed his condolences for the death of the premier's father last week.

Benedict fulfilled his complete itinerary Friday despite the security alert, meeting Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Church of England, and worshipping with him in a highly symbolic show of unity between the two churches.

Benedict is only the second pope -- after John Paul II 28 years ago -- to visit predominantly Anglican Britain since king Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 over its refusal to annul his marriage.

© 2010 AFP

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