Pope expresses sorrow for abuse victims on British visit

18th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI expressed his "deep sorrow" Saturday for the "immense suffering" of children sexually abused by Catholic priests and nuns, on the third day of his historic state visit to Britain.

The pontiff said the "unspeakable crimes" had brought "shame and humiliation" on the church, in one of his clearest public statements yet on the scandal which has sent shockwaves through Catholicism.

Meanwhile, British police continued to question six men detained by counter-terrorism officers on suspicion of plotting an attack linked to the pope's visit. But the Vatican said it had "never attributed much importance to these arrests."

Benedict spoke out on abuse during mass at Westminster Cathedral in London.

"I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers," he said in a homily.

"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 added: "I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins."

The pope said he hoped "this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims" and "the purification of the Church".

According to Vatican experts, the pope is expected to meet a group of 10 abuse victims in London on Saturday ahead of a giant open-air prayer vigil later. He has previously met with victims while on visits to Malta, the United States and Australia.

A coalition including victims of abuse by Catholic priests, atheists, abortion rights activists, demonstrators calling for women priests and those angry at the cost of the pontiff's visit, were to stage a demonstration in London.

Organisers said they expected around 2,000 people to take part in the "Protest the Pope" event, gathering near Hyde Park and then marching through central London for a rally outside the prime minister's Downing Street office.

It will be the first serious demonstration against the pope on his four-day trip -- the first ever papal state visit to Britain, by royal invitation -- with only minor protests witnessed so far.

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, adding the Vatican never believed the arrests carried "much importance".

"The pope and his aides have no concerns about security. We have complete confidence in the local police," he added.

Security remained tight on Saturday, with police closing key roads in the capital along the route the popemobile will take, although police said the arrests had not changed their existing plans for the visit.

The 83-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church started the third day of his state visit by meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron.

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

He also gave a speech at the Houses of Parliament to an audience including four former British prime ministers, warning about the "marginalisation of religion" in largely secular Britain, and beyond.

Benedict is only the second pope -- after John Paul II -- 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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