Pope succeeds in British charm offensive: commentators

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Pope Benedict XVI succeeded in his charm offensive on his historic visit to Britain although the enduring legacy of the trip is harder to judge, commentators said Monday.

The man reputed to be "God's rottweiler" before he touched down in Edinburgh for the four-day trip had shown his softer side, The Times said, with "thoughtful remarks on God and modern society".

"Not bad for a man maligned as a Teutonic hardliner," the daily said.

"Ratzinger the rottweiler transformed into Benny the bunny," enthused the paper, using the name of Benedict before he became pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

"We all want to cuddle up to him and get him to bless our babies."

Catherine Pepinster, editor of The Tablet newspaper, a British Catholic weekly, also said the pope had managed to shed his hardline image in the eyes of many Britons.

"What the visit accomplished above all was to unify Catholics and humanise a pope who has so often been perceived as cold, aloof and authoritarian," she wrote.

The first ever state visit to Britain by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the first papal trip to predominantly Anglican Britain since John Paul II in 1982 took place under intense scrutiny.

Peter Stanford, a former editor of the Catholic Herald newspaper, said the build-up to the trip had been preceded by "an outbreak of virulent anti-Catholicism", mainly over the scandal of paedophile priests.

"Benedict, to our relief, didn't dodge this scandal," Stanford wrote in the Daily Telegraph, pointing out the pope repeatedly expressed his shame and sorrow for the "unspeakable crimes" of priests who sexually abused children.

The pope's visit to mainly Anglican Britain, which took in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham, defied fears that it would be overshadowed by enormous protests, the conservative Daily Mail newspaper said.

"This was a much more successful visit than the Roman Catholic hierarchy had dared to hope," it commented.

"The crowds were larger than had been forecast, if not as big as they were when the charismatic Pope John Paul II came to this country 28 years ago."

Other analysts said the pope had made an increasingly secular country take a fresh look at faith, as Prime Minister David Cameron said in his farewell address to the pope on Sunday.

His moves to ease the strains beteen the Roman Catholic Church and Anglicans were welcomed.

But The Tablet editor Pepinster still saw trouble ahead for the pope because the Vatican was failing to make conciliatory moves towards Catholics on the liberal wing of the Catholic Church.

"Gay Catholics and women will still be asking: 'How does the Vatican and Pope Benedict see us and our role, not in society, but in the Church?'," she wrote.

And the Guardian said: "Rolling 24-hour news beamed all the ceremonies into the living rooms of middle Britain, but only as an anachronistic curiosity.

"To connect his spiritual kindom with the United Kingdom, the pope would have had to engage with modern realities, and the country would have had to listen."

© 2010 AFP

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