/ 18 September 2010

Pope apologises for abuse as thousands march in protest

Pope Benedict apologised to victims of sexual abuse on Saturday, saying paedophile priests had committed unspeakable crimes and brought “shame and humiliation” on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church.

Hours after the apology, up to 10 000 chanting demonstrators snaked though the streets of London to protest against his handling of the abuse crisis and his views on homosexuals and the ordination of women.

Moving towards the prime minister’s residence at Downing Street, the protesters carried banners reading “Benedict’s homophobia costs lives,” and “Protect the Children — Demote the Pope”. It was the largest demonstration so far on the pope’s four-day visit to Britain, which ends on Sunday in Birmingham.

The pope celebrated a Mass on Saturday for about 2 000 people in Westminster Cathedral, the mother church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales and a symbol of the struggle of Catholics to assert their rights after the Reformation.

It was the 83-year-old pontiff’s latest attempt to come to grips with the scandal that has rocked the 1,1-billion-member Church, particularly in Europe and the United States.

“I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes …,” he said in his sermon in the towering cathedral built in the late 19th century.

“I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation that all of us have suffered because of these sins,” he said, adding that he hoped “this chastisement” would contribute to the healing of the victims and the purification of the Church.

He has apologised before for sexual abuse by priests and has acknowledged that the Church was slow to deal with the problem. But his comments on Saturday were among his most direct.

Still, victims said they were not satisfied, with one group named Bishops Accountability calling it “public relations not penitence”.

“An apology is what a schoolboy does when he kicks a football through a window. What we need is for the pope to release all the files on predator priests,” Sue Cox, a demonstrator who was abused as a child said on television.

The pope began his last day in London by holding separate meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and acting opposition leader Harriet Harman.

It was during Harman’s tenure as a minister in the previous Labour government that the pope condemned an equality Bill going through Parliament that would have forced churches to hire homosexuals or transsexuals. The provision was later defeated.

Clegg is a professed atheist but is married to a Spanish Roman Catholic who is raising their children in the Church.

On Friday, anti-terrorism police, on high alert for the pope’s visit, arrested six men in London on suspicion of preparing an attack. Police searched eight homes and two businesses and reviewed their security operation.

British broadcaster Sky cited unnamed sources as saying the six were Algerian and the BBC reported that the men had posed “a possible threat to the pope” but police refused to confirm or deny that.

After visiting a Catholic home for the elderly, the pope will preside at a prayer service expected to draw some 85 000 people in Hyde Park.

On Sunday he flies to Birmingham in central England, where he will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most prominent English converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism.

Newman, who lived from 1801 to 1890 and became a Catholic in 1845, was a central figure in the Oxford Movement, which tried to move the Church of England closer to Rome. He is revered in both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. – Reuters