Pope seeks to improve ties with Anglicans on Britain visit

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Pope Benedict XVI meets the leader of the world's Anglicans Friday on the second day of a historic visit to Britain, which he began with strong words on the paedophile priests scandal.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church will attend a service at London's historic Westminster Abbey led by the Anglican head, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in a symbolic gesture towards the Church of England.

Benedict will also meet Williams beforehand at the archbishop's residence in the British capital.

The first papal state visit to Britain since king Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic faith in 1534 is taking place at time of new tensions between Catholics and Anglicans.

It comes just 11 months after Benedict shocked the religious world with an offer to take in dissident Anglicans angered by their church's moves to consecrate female bishops.

On Thursday, the 83-year-old pope flew into Edinburgh at the start of the four-day visit and was welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II.

Tens of thousands of people packed the streets of Edinburgh to see him and flocked to an open-air mass in Glasgow.

The run-up to the visit has been clouded by the abuse scandal and fears that turnout would be lower than during John Paul II's unofficial visit here in 1982, but police said 125,000 people turned out in Edinburgh to see him.

The child abuse scandal overshadowed the start of the trip with the pope making some of his strongest comments yet on the controversy.

On the flight to Edinburgh, the pope told journalists that the revelations of child abuse by priests that have rocked the Catholic Church "were a shock to me".

"The authorities in the Church have not been vigilant enough," he said.

The Church "did not act quickly or firmly enough to take the necessary action" to quell the problem, which involved abuse by priests and Catholic teachers in Ireland, the United States and several other countries.

Benedict is to meet a group of 10 victims of abuse on Friday or Saturday in London.

But a network of child abuse survivors lashed out at his comments.

"The pope's disingenuous comments about the abuse and cover up crisis are hurtful, not helpful," said Joell Casteix of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

In a speech after meeting the queen, the pope also warned of the dangers of "aggressive secularism" as Britain strives to be a "modern and multicultural society".

There was fresh controversy on the eve of the pope's visit when a Vatican aide compared Britain to a "Third World country" and said an "aggressive neo-atheism has spread" in the predominantly Anglican and secular country.

Cardinal Walter Kasper told Germany's Focus magazine: "When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes think you might have landed in a Third World country."

The Vatican said the cardinal had dropped out of the entourage accompanying Benedict for health reasons.

Benedict moved from Glasgow to London late Thursday, where he is staying at the residence of the papal envoy.

On Friday, he will meet some 3,000 schoolchildren and students to celebrate Catholic education before meeting with religious leaders.

He will then visit Williams at Lambeth Palace, the archbishop's historic London residence, in the presence of Anglican and Catholic bishops, before delivering a speech at Westminster Hall, part of the Houses of Parliament.

At the end of the day, he will attend the Westminster Abbey service.

Benedict will travel to the central English city of Birmingham Sunday, where he will preside over the beatification of a 19th century cardinal, John Henry Newman.

He is set to face protests from demonstrators angry at the Vatican's handling of the abuse scandal but also at issues such as the 20-million-pound (31-million-dollar, 37-million-euro) cost of the visit.

© 2010 AFP

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