Pope Benedict XVI spoke of his “sadness” over his church’s handling of child abuse scandals today as he flew to the UK for an historic visit.
He said the Catholic Church had not dealt with abusive priests decisively or quickly enough and said its top priority now was helping victims heal and regaining their trust in the church.
The Pope’s comments, to reporters on board his plane, marked his most thorough admission to date of failings in the way the sex abuse scandal was handled.
He also spoke of protests planned for his UK visit, saying Britain had a “great history of anti-Catholicism. But it is also a country with a great history of tolerance”.
He said he expected a warm welcome from Catholics and other believers and “mutual respect and tolerance” among those with anti-Catholic sentiments.
“I go forward with much courage and joy,” he said.
Asked about polls that suggest the faithful had lost trust in the church as a result of the sex scandals, he said he was shocked and saddened by the scope of the abuse, in part because priests take vows to be Christ’s voice upon ordination.
He said he felt “sadness also that the church authority was not sufficiently vigilant and not sufficiently quick and decisive to take the necessary measures” to stop the abuse and prevent it occurring again.
The Pope arrived at Edinburgh Airport aboard Alitalia flight Shepherd 1 at 10.30am to begin the first papal state visit to the UK.
He was welcomed by the Duke of Edinburgh and later met the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
He was formally greeted by the monarch in a ceremony full of pomp and pageantry in the shadow of Edinburgh’s Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The Queen and the Pope, both heads of state, shook hands for a few moments as the Pontiff began a four-day tour which will include Masses and meetings in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham.
The Pope had travelled the short distance from Edinburgh Airport, where his Alitalia plane landed, and looked relaxed as he stepped from a limousine which swept into the Palace’s courtyard in a motorcade.
Thousands of onlookers watched the cars speed through the streets of central Edinburgh for the meeting at the Queen’s official home in Scotland.
The highlight of the visit for Catholics will be the Pope’s beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman – the 19th century cleric who converted from the Church of England.
But the trip comes amid renewed anger at the worldwide child abuse scandal that has engulfed the Roman Catholic Church and dogged the Pope’s own religious career.
That anger has gathered pace with recent revelations in Belgium of hundreds of new victims, at least 13 of whom committed suicide over the years.
Victims abused by priests, and secular campaigners, have called on the pontiff to go further than an apology and hand over all information about suspected abusers within the church.
In his comments on board his plane, the Pope said abusive priests must never have access to children, saying they suffered from an illness that mere “goodwill” could not cure.
The Pope is widely expected to meet some of those who suffered during his visit to Britain.
In another development, German-born Cardinal Walter Kasper, 77, withdrew from the Pope’s entourage after suggesting Britain was like a “Third World country” with its multi-cultural population.
Vatican officials attributed the change of plans to ill health and distanced the Church from the comments.
But the Cardinal was under growing pressure to apologise for his comments.