Abuse victims appeal to pope before historic Britain visit

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Victims of paedophile priests called Wednesday on the eve of a historic visit to Britain by Pope Benedict XVI for the Vatican to hand over information on their treatment.

The pope hopes to improve strained links between Catholics and Anglicans during the four-day trip, but in a sign of the protests he will face, abuse victims demanded he go further than offering an apology for their treatment.

Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: "We need the Pope to say, 'I will hand over all the information I have about abusing priests wherever they are in the world. I will hand it over to the authorities of the countries where these people are being protected.'"

The pope is expected to meet victims of abuse during his visit, which starts in Edinburgh on Thursday before moving to London and then to Birmingham, central England.

But the survivors told a news conference in London they were unaware of anyone being offered a meeting with the pope.

Another victim, 45-year-old Chris Daly, said the physical and emotional abuse he suffered at the hands of nuns in a Scottish children's home in the 1970s "has cast a shadow as long as a lifetime".

"I'm broken by what happened to me. People say that this is historic, this is in the past, but survivors live with the legacy of the abuse every day," he said.

The pope will also face protests against his stance on a wide range of issues, including his opposition to contraceptions and women priests.

The issue of paedophile priests has been thrown back into the spotlight with the publication this week of a plan to deal with priests in Belgium who have sexually abused children.

Some 2,000 demonstrators will unite under the banner "Protest the Pope" in a march through London on Saturday.

Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that many Britons disagree with the pope's views, but described the visit as "a unique opportunity" to bring together different faiths.

"Of course, not everyone will agree with everything the pope says, but that shouldn't prevent us from acknowledging that the pope's broader message can help challenge us to ask searching questions about our society and how we treat ourselves and each other," Cameron said in a video message.

Benedict will have an audience with Queen Elizabeth II after flying in to Edinburgh on Thursday on the first ever state visit to Britain by the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

But the 83-year-old pope is likely to find a more muted welcome from Britain's five million Catholics than his predecessor John Paul II, who was greeted by huge crowds when he paid a pastoral visit to Britain 28 years ago.

A mass in Glasgow is set to be 10,000 people under capacity, and while crowds of up to 80,000 are expected for the main events, it is a far cry from the 300,000-plus who flocked to see a mass given by John Paul II in 1982.

More than two-thirds of Britons are opposed to the visit, according to a poll in The Times newspaper Tuesday, either because of the cost or because of the pope's views.

In an unprecedented measure, pilgrims must pay up to 25 pounds (30 euros, 39 dollars) to attend the masses as a contribution towards the 20 million pound cost of the visit, with the government contributing up to 12 million pounds.

After an open-air mass in Glasgow on Thursday, the pope moves to London on Friday and Saturday, where he will meet Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican Church, and they will celebrate evening prayer together in Westminster Abbey.

Then he moves north on Saturday to Birmingham to beatify 19th century cardinal John Henry Newman, a high-profile convert to Catholicism, in an open-air mass, before returning to Rome.

© 2010 AFP

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