Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Britain for state visit

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Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Britain on Thursday at the start of an historic four-day state visit, after admitting the Catholic Church had let its guard down on paedophilia.

The 83-year-old was greeted on the tarmac of Edinburgh Airport by Queen Elizabeth II's husband, the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, at the onset of a trip that has clouded by the abuse scandal involving priests and comments by a top Vatican official who likened Britain to a "Third World country".

He smiled broadly as he stepped off his plane in bright sunshine, becoming the first pope to pay a state visit to Britain since King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church in Rome in 1534 and founded the Church of England.

During the flight to Edinburgh, the pope told journalists on board his plane that the Catholic Church "has not been vigilant enough" on the issue of priests who abused children and failed to act quickly enough on the issue.

The revelations of child abuse that have shaken the Catholic Church "were a shock to me", he said, shortly before landing at Edinburgh airport, where he was greeted on the tarmac by Queen Elizabeth II's husband, the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip.

The pope was also greeted by the government's representative who has organised the trip, former governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten, as well as cardinals before travelling into Edinburgh in a motorcade.

The only other visit by a pope was made by John Paul II in 1982.

The pope will meet with the queen in Edinburgh, before travelling to Glasgow, London and the central English city of Birmingham, where he will preside over the beatification of a 19th century cardinal, John Henry Newman.

Before he even touched down, the pope's visit was clouded by a row sparked by one of his aides who described Britain as an "aggressively" secular "Third World country".

Cardinal Walter Kasper told Germany's Focus magazine: "England is a secularised, pluralistic country these days.

"When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes think you might have landed in a Third World country.

"In England in particular, an aggressive neo-atheism has spread," he added.

Following the remarks, the Vatican said the cardinal had dropped out of the entourage accompanying Benedict for health reasons.

It insisted Kasper's remarks had "no negative intent or dislike" for Britain.

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Vincent Nichols, said Kasper's comments were "inexplicable", defended Britain's multiculturalism and stressed that the criticism did not reflect the pope's own opinion.

Benedict's visit is aimed at improving frayed ties between Anglicans and Catholics.

But even before the row over Kasper's comments, there was strong opposition to the pope's visit, with protests planned against his views on a range of issues including clerical child sex abuse.

© 2010 AFP

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